Anton Lakes, the microcosm of life
Anton Lakes Nature Reserve despite its size has a large variety of habitats. These range from the Lakes themselves and the River that feeds them to woodland, wet grassland and dry chalk grassland.
This variety gives Anton Lakes an amazing abundance of life as seen from Brian Cartrights amazing pictures of bird life. There is of course a lot more life that often goes undetected by the casual observer in the amazing host of plants and insects present at the reserve.
All the different habitats at Anton Lakes have their own little communities many of which TARCA (The Anton Lakes Conservation Association) have had the pleasure of seeing over the years.
The wetland provides the ideal conditions for plants like the aromatic meadowsweet, Water Avens, Marsh Valerian and Cuckoo Flower, foodplant of the Orange-tip butterfly, to grow. As well as a variety of showy orchids. A small area of a nationally rare habitat of Meadow Rue grassland exists in the dew pond meadow. The small parts of chalk downland provide areas for more delicate plants like Bird's-foot trefoil, Meadow Vetchling and Yarrow to grow.
The life of our very own River Anton that feeds Anton Lakes continuing onwards meandering through town is one of the over looked areas. Often teaming with Brown Trout and other fish. But what feeds the fish? One of the studies that TARCA has been involved with has been with Riverflies. The adults of which many fisherman are familiar with. The larvae however live within the River and lake system itself. A simple kick sample with a net at various point around the reserves aquatic habitats will provide you with a plethora of wildlife. The samples will be crawling with insects such as freshwater shrimp, mayfly, stonefly, caddisfly and dragonfly larvae. The species found will determine the health of the environment and can help detect problems ranging from too much or too little shade cover to a pollution incident that can be reported before it gets worse. The ponds and pools of the area provide great breeding ground for frogs, newts and toads, and are also frequented often by our friend Ratty, the Watervole.
The summer time is when more life will be seen flying around the lakes. Standing at the edge of the lakes on a warm summer day, you will hear and see the buzz of dragonflies patrolling the lakes in search of prey. The lakes being home to several large and colourful species like the grand Emperor dragonfly and the Broad Bodied Chaser. At some point these will be joined by overseas visitors like the blue Migrant Hawker. Daintier members of this family, the damselflies will be filtering around the edges of the lakes in the rushes and long grass like the Common Blue damselfly.
A site more familiar with people will be butterflies. They benefit from the open grassland created by the scrub removal at the reserve. The extra light allows their food and nectar plant to flourish on which they rely. The very bright Common Blue butterfly is a common visitor of the lakes as is the lovely multi coloured Small Tortoiseshell, the larvae of which feed on the nettles. Along the hedgerows you will often see the Gatekeeper and the Comma, so called because of the comma mark on the back of its wing. The meadows themselves can be teaming with brown grass loving butterflies like the Meadow Brown sometimes erupting like clouds when disturbed. These are often joined by the chorus of grasshoppers and crickets hiding amongst the long grass like the Dark Bush Cricket and Meadow Grasshopper. Throughout the Spring and Summer surveys are carried out by volunteers with Test Valley Borough Council to record the number of butterflies and species seen at the lakes.
In the longer grassy areas and wooded areas many beetles make use of the dead wood like the Red-headed Cardinal beetle. Goosegrass, the sticky plant that children love to attach to people's backs provide the food plant for the amazing Bloody Nosed beetle, a beetle which gets its name from the red blood like goo its creates to defend itself from predators. Another beetle which I help monitor is the Glow Worm, yes its a beetle! The larvae and females are very worm like, but the males which fly (unlike the females) are very much beetle like in appearance. Unfortunately they are in decline across the UK, but still have good populations in Andover, glowing like tiny little lanterns at night.
This abundance of smaller life attracts predatory insects like the amazing Wasp spider which lies in waiting for an unsuspecting flying insect to get tangled in the web its hangs between the long grass stems. Even the smaller spiders like the Crab spider (Misumena vatia) will take the opportunity to take out prey much larger than itself, pictured taking a Speckled Wood Butterfly that came to nectar.
Creatures of the night are the ones that really hide away from the casual members of the public. The amazing insect life creates great foraging areas for our flying mammals, the bats (Pictured, Common Pipestrelle). The life of the River, Lakes and meadows creating a drive through feeding ground for the bats who can find their prey using their amazing echolocation.
A few times of year I carry out surveys of the moths of the day and night. These making a nice tasty snack for a bat or bird. Light trapping at night capture some great moth species like the brightly Pink and large Elephant Hawk Moth, and the black and white Clouded Border. In recent years our surveys have uncovered a small population of the Nationally Scarce Six-Belted Clearwing, a moth rarely seen, but can be easily attracted to pheromone lures, and more recently we have discovered what we believe to be a new record for a Lunar Hornet Moth, as its name suggests, a moth cunningly disguised to deter predators, and nosey humans! It preferring the willows growing in the damper parts of the reserve. Riverflies, Butterflies and moth are all very important species to monitor. They are all known as bio indicator species, which means they can tell us a lot about the health of our environment.
So as you can see, there is a lot going on, right on Andover Town's doorstep. Next time you are down the lakes take a closer look at your surroundings.