Intercessions for the 3rd Sunday of Epiphany

24th January 2021 (Year B)

I’ve prepared some prayers for a family to lead in our worship this coming Sunday, and thought I’d share them in case they help anyone else. They reflect losely on the passages Revelation 19:6-10 and John 2:1-11 which are in this week’s lectionary and owe a little to Ian Black’s ‘Intercessions’ for inspiration and shape. Feel welcome to use and adapt them, but please do comment below on where they’ve been used, by way of acknowledgement.

We see the glory and power of God
when he meets us in our needs
and answers our prayers.
Let us rejoice and praise his name.

Creative God,
you continually surprise us,
and help us to cope with and do things
that are beyond our imagination and expectations;
please breathe new life into our traditions and familiar practices,
so that we your people,
are better equipped to serve you in this changing world.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Faithful God,
you are present in the struggles and turmoil of life,
strengthening the tired and stressed,
and defending the needs of the weak and vulnerable;
please give courage and hope to those most in need,
and help us to protect and help those who work for healing,
justice and mercy.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Loving God,
you are the thread that draws people together
into loving and supportive relationships,
and wants to bring freedom to those who suffer abuse;
please help all those who struggle with family life,
to find the space and determination
to resolve differences and grow in love.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Merciful God,
who brings healing to those who suffer,
purpose to those who feel set adrift,
and comfort to those who are lonely and distressed;
please fill the lives of those who are unemployed
and under-employed,
and relieve the suffering of all those who struggle with pain,
of mind, body or spirit.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Holy God, who reigns on high
surrounded by those who have served you faithfully
across many generations;
please welcome into your eternal presence
those who have died recently,
and help us to draw on the stories of their witness
to inspire our own journey of faith.

 Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We see the glory and power of God
 when he meets us in our needs and answers our prayers.
Let us rejoice and praise his name.

Green Tomato Chutney

For over twenty years we’ve been growing enough tomatoes most years to produce ‘GTC’ – Green Tomato Chutney. If we don’t give jars of it to certain friends and relations at Christmas, we get complaints. I had assumed it was pretty well known as a recipe, but from the comments on our Facebook pages this year, apparently not.

So here goes with the whole recipe thing – but remember, this is only a guide! In many years we’ve done an ‘onion free’ version for friends who can’t onion, bulking out the quantities with extra tomatoes and apples. Historically we’ve also done batches with fresh ginger, or Christmas spices. This year, we didn’t have quite enough soft brown sugar, so we used some golden granulated instead because we really couldn’t face going shopping in the rain!

Recipe:
12oz green (ish) tomatoes – chopped
12oz onions – chopped fairly finely
8oz cooking apples – peeled, cored and chopped
12fl oz malt vinegar
12oz soft brown sugar
1.5 level tbs cornflour
3 level tsp ground ginger
1 level tsp salt
0.5 level tsp ground black pepper
0.25 level tsp turmeric
A couple of handfuls of dried fruit – sultanas and raisins

We find we can get 3x recipe in our jam saucepans, and 2x recipe in the largest saucepan we’ve got. We’re very imprecise on the spices – if you like more flavour go heaped on those spoonfuls!

Chop the tomatoes, apples and onions finely.
Place in a pan and cook on a low heat for about half-an-hour. Stir regularly as it will catch, and if it looks like it’s struggling for liquid, add a cup-full of water – we did that with our last (2x) batch today. Add a couple of handfuls of dried fruit.
Put some clean jam jars in the oven at 100c to warm gently – this stuff gets lethal hot, and will crack a jam jar at bottling if you don’t!
Add more than half of the batch’s worth of vinegar, and boil for a further 5 minutes, whilst you…
Blend the cornflour and spices, with the remaining vinegar.
Mix to a slurry, and add with the sugar to the mixture in the pan.
Keep stirring and cook for a further 5 minutes or so.
If the lumps of veg are too chunky or hard, you could take the spud basher to it?!

We use the jam funnel and a ladle to get it into jars. The person in the house with the most ‘asbestos fingers’ get’s to screw the jars on tight. Then leave to cool, wash up and open the windows, if you haven’t already – your house will smell of vinegar for days otherwise!

We always wash down the jars of chutney with hot water when they’ve cooled as I’ve never yet managed to bottle it without getting sticky chutney everywhere. Label when the jars are dry, and store for at least 3 months before trying it – but it can keep for years, if your family and friends don’t get to it first.

To give credit where credit is due, this recipe came from our friends Charlotte and Iain from our Bracknell days, and I can’t remember we where they got it from.

Roasted tomato and garlic sauce

Autumn has arrived, so we finally stripped out the tomatoes from the greenhouse this morning, which left us the rest of the day to process the goods. First up, was our take on a favourite Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall veg recipe with the ripe ones. I think you can jar this, be we don’t – we freeze it in small (3 ladle) amounts, and pop it in stews or use as a soup base during the winter. This is probably the 4th batch of this stuff we’ve made this year – the tomato crop has been immense.

Don’t ask me about quantities, not a clue! But we had enough ripe ones to cover more than 1 of our roasting dishes, so I spread them out across two – the bigger tomatoes are cut in half, and laid out face down. Then I split a whole bulb of garlic across the two dishes – crushed – then drizzled a reasonable quantity of olive oil over the lot. I think the classic HFW recipe involves herbs too, but I’ve never bothered.

I popped them in a hot oven 180c for about a half hour, keeping an eye on them until the top of the tomatoes and some loose garlic bits are slightly crispy. Then comes the slightly faffy bit, where 2 pairs are hands are useful: carefully pour the mushy, liquidy gloop through as sieve placed over a large bowl. Having one person to hold the roasting dish, and one to slide the gloop is ideal.

What we do then is to use a short handled wooden spoon (or my husband prefers a potato masher with our flat-bottomed sieve) to push through as much of the roasted tomato as possible, breaking down the skins, centres and pips until you’ve just got a load of tough husky bits left. You may need to decant to a larger bowl, and you’ll definitely need to scrape the underside of the sieve because that goo is the best bit!

Washing up the sieve is the biggest pain of the whole exercise, but well worth it!

We leave the bowl with cling-film over it to go cold. Then the resulting bowl of flavour-filled gloop is frozen into small batches, and will be added to assorted stews just before the ‘thickening’ stage, all winter long.

Crab-apple Jelly and Apple Mint Jelly – produce from a bumper year!

2020 is proving a bonanza year for many fruiting trees – and a trip to the New Forest this week reinforced this news. There are hundreds of crab-apple trees just loaded to dripping point with crab apples – more than the Commoners livestock and deer will probably pick up. So, Dad and I helped by foraging a few for ourselves.

I was surprised when a couple of ladies picking blackberries (also still in good supply) asked where we going to make Crab Apple Jelly, how did we eat it, and what does it taste like. Obviously not all fellow foragers are crab-apple aware! So, for posterity, because I’m forgetful, and in case it helps anyone else, here’s what we do.

I’ve doubled up with some notes on making hot apple juice into Mint Jelly as an alternative additional ‘savoury’ jelly which is great with lamb!

Crab-apple jelly has been a staple throughout my life, in sandwiches, on toast, in the gravy of pot-roasted game, even with the Christmas meats as an alternative to red-currant. It’s sweet, and apple-y (obviously) and varies in colour and quantity depending on the apples, and the year. Some years, the apples are more juicy than others, and different strains of wild crab, or varieties of garden grown crabs, come in different flesh colours. So in our haul this week, we have wild crab apples, a few of a ‘domestic’ columnar crab apple (Malus) called “Laura” which is a deep plummy colour. Dad planted Laura in his garden 2 years ago, alongside an early crab (and heavy cropper) called “John Downie” that’s already been jammed!

Dad and I are rather imprecise, perhaps lazy, cooks. So standard practice is not to cut up the crabs – the skins split quite happily on their own once the water is boiling. However, the “Laura” are a chunky fruit for a crab, with such amazing flesh colour which will deepen the colour of the jelly, that I have halved them to help their colour permeate the pulp produced. You’re meant to bring it to the boil gently… but I’ve not really got time for that sort of faff either!

Thinking about it, washing them and taking the stalks off is probably also approved of in polite circles, but since these were (largely) hand-picked, and that also adds time to a lengthy process, I, er, don’t normally. We also tend to take the spud-basher to them once they start to soften, ‘to help the pulping process along’ you understand.

When Dad makes crab-apple jelly, he using completes this stage in the evening, and leaves it overnight, so that the actual jelly making happens in the morning after the mush has had plenty of time to drain through. I got back from his place too late last night for that, so this is being left to drain until early evening, when there is a second pair of hands to help un-string and catch the muslins without dunking them in the juice! The drained pulp gets composted.

It’s worth noting that to this point, the process is exactly the same when making Mint Jelly, at least to the point of bringing the apple juice back to the boil. However when we did this earlier in the summer (10th August) we used various bought and scavenged cooking apples.

The main bit of measuring comes next, as the sum goes: 1pint of juice to 1lb of sugar (because I’m old fashioned in my measuring), slowly adding the sugar to the juice as you gently warm it up on the stove again. Tonight I had 5.5pints of juice. You can’t rush this bit – if you try you end up with burnt sugar on the bottom of the pan, and a nasty mess.

Sometimes, like this time, you end up with considerable scum on the top – more so than with blackcurrant or similar jam. Tonight, there was perhaps more scum than normal, as there was a slight handling error getting the pulp into the compost. But we don’t waste it! It will taste delicious even if it looks a bit grim.

Tonight, I got set after 10 minutes at the first try of the ‘cold plate in the freezer’ trick! In fact I suspect it was setting before it came to rolling boil but I wanted to make sure I got as much scum up and off as I could to get a good clear jelly. I suspect I could have got away with giving the apples a little more water with the apples right back at the beginning this morning, but it made things quicker tonight, so I’m not complaining. (Not enough) jars had been pre-warmed at 100c in the oven whilst it was boiling. Lids are screwed tight immediately, and a while later they should ‘pop’ loudly as they cool.

Back in the summer with the Mint Jelly, we simply stripped all the leaves from our mint plant, chopped them as finely as we could, and added them to the (much paler) jelly juice, once we knew we’d reached setting point.

If read all this, well done! We hope it is helpful. Enjoy making the most of whatever apple crop you’ve got, foraged, or otherwise!

Residents old and new: Garden wildlife in lockdown

In amongst the ‘madness’ that has been learning to minister in lockdown, we’ve discovered that the local wildlife is no respecter of social isolation rules!

2020-03-26 hedgehogFirstly we discovered that the Hedgehog we’ve been encouraging for two years had over-wintered! Great excitement, especially as my husband snuck a peek in our hog-houses late one afternoon to confirm that ‘the Hogfather’ as I’ve knick-named him or her, was truly resident – apparently with a preference for the left hand of our two hog-houses. There is a short video of it’s nocturnal wanderings HERE. We do have a hedghog-diner which it likes, but it’s also rather partial to the remains of the sunflower hearts left by the Goldfinches!

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Cock House Sparrow taking nesting material into the swift-box 10th April 2020

 

Then this Holy Week, as we’ve been pottering around the garden trying to make the most of our limited growing space and a collection of out-of-date seeds (anything to get away from the video and computer screen) we heard scrabbling above us. In 2018 we’d also had members of the Blackwater Valley Swift group install a 4 story swift box on our expansive north wall, as we knew that in summer we get a small group calling near the house, and lodging in the neighbouring street. Despite using the ‘swift-caller’ they lent us near the swift-box, we’ve had no joy at attracting returning juvenilles (which is what the idea was) nor any other resident Swifts. However, on looking up this week, we noted that whilst the ‘flats’ as I call them had warped a little, blocking one entrance completely, the scrabbling I heard Good Friday proved to be…. House Sparrows! There are edited highlights HERE of some (fairly shoddy) video and stills, including an extended view of sparrows doing ‘what comes naturally’ when it’s nesting season!

[It was also a chance to practice some very basic video editing skills for ministry, so please excuse the naff header/footer etc.]

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Blue-Tit bringing moss to our Birch nest-box 12th April 2020

 

2018 must have been a good year for our intentions toward wildlife, as we were also given and installed by the north-facing kitchen window, a Birch nest-box – that has likewise remained empty until now. We’d been aware from inside our kitchen over the last few days of an irregular tap-tap-tapping that we couldn’t attribute to anything inside. Yesterday, we discovered that we’ve also got Blue-tits nesting. This morning before our online service, they proved a little camera-shy, so no video to accompany the photos yet! Creation it seems believes in generating the new life of the Easter Season.

So all in all, we’re delighted to have other couples moving in to share our social isolation. In fact, couldn’t be happier… unless the Swifts move in, but they could find it crowded!

Big Garden Birdwatch 2020

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Greenfinch catching the sunlight – yes, there was some!

This morning I took the annual hour out to count the garden birds for the Big Garden Birdwatch.

Now obviously I watch the garden birds more often than once year, possibly a little too much, especially when I have other things I ought to be doing! But doing it for citizen science can bring surprises, as it did with last year’s Redpolls.

Sadly however, there wasn’t so much to excitement me this year – though it was good to get our local Dunnocks on the list. As yet there are no Redpolls, nor the Siskin, but the latter don’t usually materialise until late February, for reasons I don’t know.

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A split second of peace between squabbling Greenfinch and Goldfinch – probably because they’ve both got their mouths full! 

Anyway, this years list is as follows with some notes – as always the numbers are the maximum number of birds viewed at any one time within the hour:
Goldfinches 13 (quarrelsome bunch)
Greenfinches 3 (don’t always win their battles with the Goldfinches despite their relative bulk!)
Dunnock 2 (I think there’s a romance going on, they follow each other faithfully)
Blue Tit 2 (I really wish they’d use the lovely birch bird-box on their regular flight-path at the corner of the house.)
Wood Pigeon 2 (who spent most the hour at either end of the fence, like bookends.)
Feral Pigeon 4 (about a third of the actual number, which continually rises.)
Robin 1 (as territorial as always, and particularly fond of seeing off the Dunnocks.)

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A very poor photo of the resident love-birds – sorry Dunnocks. They are also one of the best songsters in the garden which might be why our Robin doesn’t like the competition!

Blackbird 1 (briefly, high in his vantage point in the apple tree)
Chaffinch 1 (briefly identifiable among the Goldfinches but didn’t fight for space to feed, which is sad when they used to be far the most numerous finch in the garden.)
Starling 2 (numbers are down locally, they used to be almost a nuisance on the fat balls.)

The best bit of bird-watching in the day came immediately after I stopped watching the feeders – as I washed up yesterday’s dishes I watched the corvids mobbing a Sparrowhawk over the houses opposite! Typical.

August Hedgehog update

Since early July we’ve been monitoring the hedgehogs using the garden more regularly, and discovered that at best we now have 3 hedgehogs in the garden – which could be a mother and a couple of babies. Typically the only night we had a photo of three, we’d knocked the settings on the trail-cam and there were no videos triggered! (Grrrr…)

A conversation with a new neighbour (next-door but one changed hands around Easter) produced the news that she has a family of three under the wooden playhouse in the garden. Apparently they steal the food left for her two cats… which might be why the cats were stealing the hedgehog food in our garden when we weren’t using the feeding box as a way of monitoring how many hedgehogs we actually had!

It also explains why our hedgehog houses never got used over the winter – they were hidden under the playhouse two-doors up!

For those who don’t see what we post on the ‘book of face’ and want to see more, I’ve included a couple of photos, and there’s a video here for you to enjoy.

If you look really carefully, there’s a small hog top right of ‘Mum’ and another further away top left of here, near the herbaceous border!
‘Mum’ and one hoglet

Hog-news – First Contact 2019!

 

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Hedgehog poo! (Hand for scale)

I get excited about some strange things I guess – they include Hedgehog poo!

A couple of mornings ago (13th April to be precise), I found (and of course we then photographed) what I thought was Hedgehog droppings in 2 places in the garden. It certainly wasn’t the local moggies – they dig up my plants rather than fertilise the lawn! Graham then found a third lot.

I checked with the lovely Jayne at Happy Hedgehog Rescue in Yateley, and she confirmed it was indeed the poo of a healthy Hedgehog.

So of course we put the trail cameras out that night….. Nothing.

So we put them out again last night (14th – 15th April 2019)….. Success!!
We have a Hedgehog in our garden again. Couldn’t be more delighted. Simple things.

STC_0011cLooking at the photographs more closely, I’m thinking it has the same ‘roughed up’ bit on it’s left rump as last years, so I’m wondering if it’s the same Hedgehog?

We’ve had two hog-houses in the garden over the winter, and I’d sort of convinced myself that neither had been used. But this chap disappeared toward the opening of the left hand one twice last night, under the second trail-cam. So, now I’m not so sure on that either.

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Can you see the little rosette of ruffled prickles on it’s left buttock?

We will re-site and re-set the cameras over the next few nights, and see what we discover.

First video clip of 2019 is here.

The last video clip of the night, which I’ve entitled ‘Hedgehog at the Gates of Dawn’ because it also features the dawn chorus, is here.

The next task is to make our Hedgehog a proper feeding station as per the instructions Jayne sent me last year!

More news when we have some.

Redpolls on poll-day #BigGardenBirdwatch2019

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Goldfinch and (male) Lesser Redpoll #BigGardenBirdwatch2019

OK, so I’m a bit behind the curve but I wanted to log this for posterity.

I always try and take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch, and some years I’ve managed to blog about it – usually when something notable happens. Which it did this year. In fact it’s still happening.

The usual suspects visited the garden in my hour on the morning of Sun 27th Jan (9am-10am before I took service) – see the list below. I wasn’t at all surprised to see increasing numbers of Goldfinches – they love the fact we’ve gone over to feeding sunflower hearts as the mixed birdseed was causing too much waste and weeds. What I hadn’t stopped long enough to notice up until that morning was that some of the flock of 20+ Goldfinches were in fact Lesser Redpolls!

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Lesser Redpoll – surprisingly stripey – and a little less pink on it’s front so female?

We’ve had Siskin in the past (though not yet this year) but I’d never seen a Redpoll before, anywhere, ever, even though a near neighbour had said she’d had them about 10+ years ago. So a ‘lifer’ for me and a new ‘tick’ for our little suburban garden.

What’s more they’ve stayed among the flock of Goldfinches who arrive several times a day. I may therefore have spent more time watching the garden birds than I might normally do!

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Lesser Redpoll – tricky to photograph away from the feeders as they don’t stop still!

Big Garden Birdwarch 2019 – list

Goldfinch 21 (!!!)
Robin 1
Chaffinch 2
Bluetit 2
Greenfinch 1
Redpoll 3
Woodpidgeon 2
Collard Dove 4 (on the increase)
Crow 1
Feral Pidgeon (another, less welcome addition to the list)

In other garden wildlife news, the little pond is now 6 months old, some the fish we never put in are still alives, and so is one of the backswimmers! Roll on spring-time.

Creating a small pond

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Lunch with a view – a wonderful addition to the garden!

I’ve been sitting on the patio for lunch in the lovely autumn sun this week, admiring our new pond and watching the creatures already living around it.

We’ve dreamt of having a wildlife pond for some years. However, in effectively twelve years of ministry training, it wasn’t a priority, and there was always the significant likelihood that we’d rent the house out and move on. However God had other ideas, and having discovered this year that we’re staying put for the foreseeable future, it seemed right that a few home improvements were in order. Ponds are so much more interesting than new bathrooms (though we’ve done that too)!

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16th July 2018

We only have a small garden, so it had to be a small pond. We also know the ground we’re on well enough that layers of builders rubble lie under our garden, and with a gravel-bed geology, digging even a small pond was going to be very hard work. So, I’m afraid we found someone younger and fitter than us for that bit. The lovely Matt (son of a friend and colleague in ministry locally) even provided a pre-formed liner he and his father had never used!

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18th July 2018

However, we wanted a pond that hedgehogs could live with, without drowning, that insects could drink at, that might encourage damselflies and dragonflies, and host interesting creatures. So it needed a shallow-end of gravel. So we sunk the preformed liner an additional 3 inches below ground level, under the edge of the house near the patio, and not directly under the trees. It was dug and filled with tap water on 16th July, and allowed to settle for a couple of days.

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Bumblebee drinking 18th July 2018

This was I guess the other part of our wedding anniversary present to ourselves – the first bit being a trail-cam to video the hedgehogs! So, on 18th July we were able to add plants, gravel and pebbles, and start to see what happened. On that very first day, we had a bumble-bee drinking on the gravel, and I was a kid at Christmas… the project was looking like it was going to be a success.

Over the next two months, various things have been added. Some plants came home from a holiday visit to RHS Rosemoor. The collection of rocks was added to with fossils we’d collected on visits to beaches, favourite hills, and other significant places in years passed. Tidying out the shed allowed us to use our son’s cast-off wood (he carves greenwood spoons) to create a small woodpile that was accidentally positioned under a drip from the guttering where it will rot nicely we hope. Effectively it’s a pond of memories as well as for the future.

PLANTS:

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Rat-tailed maggot – the lavae of some hoverfly

Yellow water iris Iris pseudacorus – put on the shelf of the pond one end; the wind kept blowing it over, so eventually it was weighted into place by having some ‘fairy-stones’ wired to it. Chosen for the lava of dragon- and damselflies to crawl up to hatch.

Water mint Mentha aquatica – very attractive to insects, and should give shade, nooks and crannies for the water creatures to hide in.
Purple Loosestrife Lythrum salicaria – initially put on the shelf the other end, but it regularly got blown over too, and was really too close to the Water Mint. Dad has a plant in his flowerbed that has flowered endlessly this year, so we moved ours out into the ground surrounding to the pond.
Frogbit Hydrocharis morsus-ranae – went in initially floating on the surface, as a native oxygenator, but very quickly looked like it would take over in our small pond, and became home to a lot of snail eggs (see below) so that went after about a month.
Water-lily (for which the label is still in the pond!) A small specimen recommended by the lovely lady at Maidenhead Aquatics for our size of pond. Initially on a shelf, and then moved down onto an old roof tile in the bottom – the tile is curvy so will also provide a home for water-creatures that need to hide.
Lampranthus brownii, Coreopsis rosea ‘American Dream’, Dianthus ‘Whetmans Stars Supernova’, Agastache ‘Kudos Silver Blue’ and Ajuga reptans ‘Braunherz’ were all planted around the pond to attract insects.

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Greater-pond skater or Back-swimmer 27th September 2018

PONDLIFE:
We also imported some pondweed from a neighbours small pond, complete with two Great Pond Snails, from whence the snail-eggs came we guess. As it transpires, the weed (which has since vanished interestingly) may have contained fish-eggs. Another friend donated us some nymphs from their much larger pond, a couple of Common Pond-skaters, a Great Water-boatman (otherwise known as Back-swimmers), and one small fish that crept into their net.

As I’ve sat by the pond for my lunch this week, I’ve watched not one, but eight small fish (and no more mosquito lavae)!!! Our friends swear blind they’ve not been surreptitiously filling our pond with creatures, so we’re assuming there were eggs in the weed from the neighbour who also reputedly has fish. They will have to take their chance as we’ve not added a pump, as it’s not advised if you want dragonfly lavae – they tend to get stuck in it!

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European Hornet drinking 27th September 2018

Water-boatmen apparently fly at night and are attracted to light, which is why we put four cheap solar-lights round the pond; this seems to have worked as we now have three water-boatman! A dragonfly did a circuit of the pond but didn’t stop, but a Hornet has been a regular visitor, joining the hoverflies that sit in the sun on the pebbles.

To say we’re thrilled that all this has been achieved in a little over two months is an understatement. The big test will be whether we get frogs and toads in the spring, who hatches, and what more wildlife we’ve had visit by this time next year. I will of course, log all the excitement here.