Wildlife in Cheshire
Cheshire Wildlife Trust's alphabetical guide to out natural world reaches the letters U and V
UndergrowthUndergrowth is not a precise ecological term; it is usually applied to any untidy mass of vegetation, especially below a tree canopy. The commonest undergrowth species include bracken and bramble, often growing so densely it can be almost impossible to walk through. The value of undergrowth is not the plants themselves but the huge wealth of life they support. Much of this life is invertebrates: the bugs, beetles, spiders, slugs, snails, bees, wasps, flies, grasshoppers, centipedes, millipedes and other creepy-crawlies that make up the majority of life on our planet. All can thrive, feed and reproduce in the dense tangles of vegetation. This abundance of life makes undergrowth a productive foraging ground for some of our smaller and shyer birds, such as dunnocks and wrens. The shelter it provides can be home to nesting birds as well as wood mice and hedgehogs.
VioletsThere are a number of species of violet native to Britain but the two you are most likely to encounter are the common dog violet and the sweet violet. The latter is our only scented violet, but the scent can be elusive. One component of the perfume numbs scent receptors in the nose, so while the first sniff detects a beautiful fragrance, it has vanished by the second sniff, not to reappear until the numbness wears off. Despite this, violets have a long history of use in perfume, as well as being candied as sweets and being used medicinally.The delicate blue-purple flowers of violets are common in our woodlands, hedgerows and gardens from February onwards. As well as looking beautiful the plants are invaluable as the caterpillar food source for some of our most threatened butterflies, including the small pearl-bordered fritillary.
VolesCheshire is home to three species of vole. All are charming creatures with short round faces and tiny ears, and all are strict vegetarians. However there are big differences in where they live and how numerous they are.The smallest is the bank vole, distinguished by its chestnut-brown fur, which lives in hedgerows and woodland, never venturing far from cover. As well as green leaves and stems, they nibble on a variety of woodland fruit, seeds and nuts, including blackberries, rosehips and hazel nuts.The field vole is slightly larger, and as the name suggests lives in open grassland, where it feeds almost exclusively on grasses. Its alternative name, the short-tailed vole, perfectly describes its distinguishing physical attribute, a tail barely as long as its face. The field vole prefers rough, tussocky fields, as these give it plenty of shelter and places to build its grassy nests. They are believed to be one of the most numerous mammals in Britain, and are an important part of the diet of some of our iconic predators such as the barn owl.Our largest vole is the water vole, possibly better known as 'Ratty' from The Wind in the Willows. They live alongside rivers, canals and ponds, wherever there is an abundance of waterside vegetation for cover and food. They are great swimmers and when startled will dive into the water for safety. Once a common mammal, water voles have suffered a dramatic decline in recent years. The main reason for this is predation by released American mink, exacerbated by loss of habitat and water pollution.
ValerianGenerally found growing in wet meadows, marshes and alongside rivers, common valerian, scientific name Valeriana officinalis, is a British native perennial. It grows to over 1 metre tall, with paired, slightly serrated dark green leaves. The small pinkish-white flowers are carried in wide, ragged crowns. Valerian has been valued as a medicinal herb since at least the time of ancient Greece and Rome. The ancient Greeks used it for many ailments, hence its medieval name 'all heal', but today its main uses are as a sedative and to treat insomnia. The plant should not be confused with red valerian, a distantly related plant whose scarlet flowers are very popular with butterflies, but which does not share the same medicinal properties.