In praise of ivy

Blog post by Chris Durdin on 06 Nov, 2018
The normal circuit through NWT Thorpe Marshes and along the bank of the River Yare passes an area thick with ivy on a woodland edge close to the river. Nicknamed rather unimaginatively as ‘Ivy Corner’, it’s a regular place to pause, especially on a sunny autumn afternoon when the late-flowering ivy is often alive with insects, including late butterflies such as commas.

Most naturalists appreciate how autumn-flowering ivy is a great wildlife asset, especially when there aren’t many other sources of nectar. This corner is not necessarily much better than ivy anywhere else, though being next to the marshes quite often has a dragonfly or damselfly warming itself. Last autumn, for example, the latest willow emerald damselfly recorded in the UK by the British Dragonfly Society was here, on 6 November.

The ivy highlights on October’s Thorpe Marshes guided walk were a little different. West-facing ‘Ivy Corner’ was still in the shade. Instead, as the group gathered just before 10 o’clock, everyone clustered around a tower of ivy on willows by the railway bridge that acts as the reserve’s entrance. A migrant hawker, usually fast-flying, was perching near the top of the ivy, probably waiting to warm up after roosting overnight. The sweet-smelling flowers attracted the usual suspects: wasps, honey bees, hoverflies and a hornet. We’ve learnt not to be afraid of hornets, which are regularly seen on the ivy patches as they blunder in and out of view.
Ivy bee, by Derek Longe

Ivy bee, by Derek Longe



However the main focus was on ivy bees. Two of the group were alert to how this species has a range that is moving rapidly north, like so many species influenced by the changing climate. There was talk of many new records in Norfolk this year. Could we add NWT Thorpe Marshes to the list?

There was no certain sighting then but the search for ivy bees resumed after the walk around the marshes at around noon. A red admiral butterfly was easy to see and identify. Then, with some determination, the small, stripy, rather wasp-like Colletes hederae was found and photographed.

Chris Durdin leads monthly wildlife walks at NWT Thorpe Marshes. Details of monthly walks can be found here.
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