Text by Bruce McDonald
Photos by Mike Dean and Bruce McDonald
We were hoping for better weather on our return trip to Pontypool Park – our first trip being abandoned because of heavy rain. This time we were more fortunate.
The history of this park goes back as far as 1576 when Richard Hanbury came to Pontypool and started the family dynasty here. Over 100 years later Capel Hanbury bought a portion of land that was to become Pontypool Park. Then in 1694 Major John Hanbury built the first house which was subsequently added to and then completely re-worked in the early 1800s. Part of the house was demolished in 1872 and the Victorian extension added. Finally the park was transferred to the Local Authority in 1920. There is much to see in its 64 acres including ponds, an ice-house, Italian Gardens and higher up the Shell Grotto and, beyond that, the Folly.
Our first objective was to look at the specimen trees in the company of Tony Titchen and despite only walking a few hundred yards from the visitor centre we managed to cover a wide spectrum of different species. We started with Robinia pseudoacacia, named after Jean Robin who was arborist to the French king Henry III. The pods are poisonous and the commonly planted cultivar 'Frisia' never seems to produce flowers. Nearby were Scots Pine, Pinus sylvestris, characterised by very short needles – this was the subspecies Scotica. Next Tony talked us through the identifying characteristics of a Lime. It had pale undersides with the bracts on the fruit ‘subtending’. This was the Silver Lime, Tilia tomentosa. Tony distinguished between ‘sprouts’ which emerge from the trunks of a tree and ‘suckers’ which appear from the ground. The flowers were attractive to bees but have been known to kill them.
Our next Lime had shiny leaves that were similarly coloured on both sides and this was X euchlora. It makes a good street tree and provides dense cover – one to stand under if it raining. A Norway Maple, Acer platinoides, provided an opportunity to use Tony’s latex text. Remove a leaf and check to see if a milky substance emerges from the break. The Norway Maple does but Sycamore does not. This can be really useful as the leaves of these two can look very similar. Incidentally the Field Maple, Acer campestre, also exudes latex.
Next some oaks where we had a Scarlet Oak, Quercus coccinea, juxtaposed with a Turkey Oak, Quercus cerris and a Red Oak, Quercus rubra. Tony’s tip for the American Red Oaks is to hold a leaf to the sky – the vein clearly goes to the tip of the leaf. And finally a substantial Tibetan Cherry, Prunus serrula,and this was a Champion, one of several in the park.
After lunch a few of us headed off into the extensive grassy meadows with increasing amounts of sunshine encouraging a host of invertebrates to manifest themselves. Somewhat surprising was the number of Marbled Whites, Melanargia galathe, on display matched by Ringlets, Aphontopus hyperantus, Meadow Browns, Maniola jurtina, Small Heaths, Coenonympha pamphilus and assorted Skippers.
The oaks were sporting the usual collection of Marble Galls, Andricus kollari and a few Artichoke or Hop galls, Andricus foecundatrix, but more unusual was the gall shown in the image which was on the reverse of some leaves of a Purple Beech where the branches had fallen to the ground. Up in the tree it might not have been noticed. The gall is Aceria nervisequa and whilst not uncommon when reported to SEWBREC it was the only record on the publicly-accessible database – one for members to look out for.
At the top is the Shell Grotto with great views over the surrounding countryside but closed to the public as it always seems to be whenever we visit.
Numerous grass-hoppers were disturbed as we walked through the long grass but we did manage to identify a Common Green Capsid, Lygocoris pabulinus. A decent day of weather had guaranteed a good day out.
'In the above article (also in the September 2016 newsletter) about the visit to Pontypool park we identified this bug (photo above) as the Common Capsid Bug. We have heard from Rob Nottage that this is Closterotomus norwegica also know as the Potato Capsid. This can be distinguished by the two black dots on the pronotum.'