December 2005


Earley Old English 'Earnley -eagle wood'

The winter of 2005/6 is going to be a cold one,if we believe the experts.  Most of us will have warm, snug shelter but our local wildlife will have to be resilient to get through it.  When you drive on our congested roads it's hard to imagine there are millions of living creatures other than us in Earley.  Our support for wildlife in these hard times is mostly directed at birds, perhaps because they are so easily visible to us.  Other animals have to rely on their own resourcefulness to survive.  Some use ingenious ways to cope.  The article on winter moths  (page 2) explains how these delicate creatures get through winter.   At Christmas we decorate our homes with holly and ivy but when you hang it in your hall, think of the creature that relies on these for its existence:  our beautiful Holly Blue butterfly, see page 3.  Christmas is a time for myths and legends and also on page 3 you will find a Cautionary Tale for Christmas.  But before Christmas, make time to come to our Hedgerow Talk on Dec 7 (see 'Forthcoming Events') by an acknowledged expert, Dick Greenaway, which promises to be a fascinating insight into Earley's environmental past.


Earley Walk - Thames Valley Path  
Moths in Winter                      
Green Jargon                         
A Christmas Tale
"The Holly and the Ivy"             
'Green' Christmas Stocking Fillers  
Support your Local Shops            
News from Maiden Erlegh Nature      
Earley Wildlife Sightings    
Websites for children        
Future Events


Our membership numbers are steadily rising and have reached over 200.  To give us a more powerful voice, why not enrol all your family members individually, including children?  Or, tell your friends or neighbours if you think they are interested in the Earley environment, and would like to attend meetings or courses, participate in practical projects or just receive the newsletter to be informed, then sign them up!  Remember, membership is free.  To become a member send details to Liz Wild, 50 Kenton Road, Earley, or e-mail details to her on  Go on: do your bit for Earley and see how many members you can enrol.


We admit to being novices in this technology business, and if you experience trouble receiving this newsletter, we should like to hear about it. E-mail


Get to know your Earley

Want to go for a walk but don't know where to go?Thames Valley Path

Take a stroll along the river bank, visit a nature reserve, and perhaps walk on to Sonning

It surprises some to learn that Earley extends as far as the Thames (see your map in the Earley Town Guide).  You may need to use your car to get to the Thames Valley Business Park. To reach the start point, you can either join the A329M at Loddon Bridge roundabout which takes you straight through, or go via Pitts Lane, left at Shepherd's Hill roundabout onto London Road, straight over next roundabout and then follow signs for the Thames Valley Waterside Centre.  You can park at the Centre, cross the grassed area and turn right to walk along the riverbank (Sonning direction).  Alternatively, if you park on the dual carriageway just past the waterside centre, and near the Oracle business centre, (not to be confused with the shopping centre!), take the grassy path which leads to the river. Again, turn right for Sonning and you will eventually come to the Thames Valley Nature Reserve, which has several small lakes.  There are various paths through the Reserve, or you can choose to walk on to the lock (and pub) at Sonning.

Text Box:


Moth        MOTHS in WINTER

The months of December and January are generally quiet for adult moths on the wing compared to the often enormous numbers of species and individuals around at other times of year. The appropriately-named Winter Moth (Operophtera brumata) can usually be found in December, January and February in a normal winter (when did we last have one of those?), and if, on a mild night, you notice large numbers of grey-winged moths about the same size as a common blue butterfly congregating on your lighted windows, that is what they will probably be. The caterpillars feed on oak and fruit trees and, together with another moth of winter, the Mottled Umber (Erannis defoliaria), can practically defoliate oak trees in late May. Often you can hear and feel the frass falling to the ground if you stand under an infested tree, and see the small green caterpillars dangling from long silk threads. In my garden in Avalon Road, and no doubt elsewhere in our area, they form the basis of the diet for baby blue tits. If the rearing of the baby blue tits in May does not coincide with the brief presence of the caterpillars then they will run out of food, unless something else becomes available. In my garden this seems to happen in about one year in three.

The pretty russet and black, but highly-variable December Moth (Poecilocampa populi) is also attracted to light and is a much bulkier and furrier affair than most other winter moths. It’s worth taking time to look at the incredible structure of the feathered antennae of the males. If you capture a female there is a good chance that it will lay eggs;  the larvae will feed upon blackthorn or hawthorn, both of which are common in our area.

The Mottled Umber is of a generally yellowy-orange colour with interesting markings, but quite variable. It is, however, easily distinguished from a near relative, the Dotted Border, by the latter’s row of black dots around the edges of both the fore and hind wings. Other species that may be encountered in January are the Early Moth (Theria primaria – suggesting it’s the first moth of the year), Spring Usher and the lovely Brindled Beauty, again an altogether bulkier and furrier species than most others around at the same time.

Moths that fly in winter have evolved various adaptations that render them fitter to cope with the low temperatures. The Mottled Umber, the Winter Moth, and no doubt other species can continue to fly happily in cold temperatures as they have antifreeze in their body fluids! Another most interesting fact is that most species have females that are to all intents and purposes wingless and therefore flightless, looking more like spiders than moths with “wings” no more than a millimetre or two in length.. There are probably several theories as to why this should be, but the conventional one is that it is more “expensive” to fly in winter, as it takes more energy to warm up the flight muscles. This matters more to females than males, as eggs are more costly to produce than sperm. Clever things, moths!
Alan Broodbank

If you feel inspired to find out more about these beautiful creatures, join the Berkshire Moth Group
Check this website for photos of some of the above moths : (Select Moth Search, type in moth name, select View thumbnails)


SUSTAINABILITY has been defined as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.  A key part of sustainability is considering the rights of future generations, and their access to a similar quality of environment, and supply of resources. This is one of the toughest challenges of sustainability. To get people thinking outside of their immediate family and social group, and maybe five generations ahead, is a huge, some would say, impossible, challenge."

Or " improving the quality of life for all without damaging the environment or the ability of future generations to meet their own needs".


A Christmas Tale

All families have ChChristmasTaleristmas traditions, and theirs was The Story.  After the celebratory meal they each chose a slip of paper from the hat, and she picked the 'story teller' slip.  She was given an object around which she must weave her story.  It was a toy space craft.  The children were delighted, but one or two of the large extended family groaned inwardly.  They guessed the theme.

She began by telling them they must suspend disbelief, it was a fantasy tale.  It was the story of two distant imaginary planets, one called Pax and the other, Bellum. The Observation Panel on Pax was meeting to hear the report from one of their observation craft.  The chief began his report.  "As you know, we were concerned by the efforts of the planet Bellum to get their dominant species into space, although this has proved to be a puny affair.  Our last very detailed observation was many years ago when we reported


their aptitude for aggression on both a large and individual scale, which is not unexpected
since life on their planet is based on one species devouring another, unlike ours.  But there seem to have been very disturbing changes since then.  We have found an enormous increase in numbers of the dominant species.  Their activities appear to be having an alarming effect on the make-up of their biosphere, which is posing considerable problems for them.  They are trying to combat these effects but we estimate it will take some time to reverse the damage.  Our conclusion is that they will be so preoccupied in the future by dealing with these problems, they will not have the resources to advance their space travel and do not present a threat to us."   The Observation Panel, satisfied by the findings, and agreeing to monitor the situation in twenty years' time, broke up.

The younger listeners, feeling cheated of an exciting story, soon went back to their games and the adults, not caring to think twenty years ahead, shook off the gloom spread by the story, and soon noisy chatter signalled everything was back to normal.


MusicThe HOLLY and the IVY

We like to decorate our halls with holly and ivy, and there is much folklore connected with them both.    The custom of bringing evergreen boughs into our homes existed in pre-Christian times, and holly (also Hulver, Holm, Hollin ) was seen as a powerful fertility symbol and a guard against witchcraft and house goblins.   It later came to stand for the crown of thorns and its berries for Christ's blood, which may account for the belief held up to recent times (and even now by some people) that it was unlucky to cut down a holly tree; when a hedge was grubbed out the holly tree often survived.  One belief, which may be particularly relevant, is a European tradition that says whoever brings the first holly into the house, husband or wife, at Christmas will rule the house for the next year!   The berries are only borne on the female plant; they can be eaten by wildlife such as birds, but are poisonous, causing vomiting, in humans. 

The ivy in early mythology is associated with Bacchus, his worship being characterised by wild dances, thrilling music and tipsy excess (shades of Reading on a Saturday night!), so it is therefore associated with having a good time.  It's our only liana.  One misunderstanding is that it is a parasite.  This is not so, but very weak trees can become prone to wind damage.  It gives great value as a wildlife plant and as a late nectar source for bees. During the utility years of the 1940s people would boil ivy leaves in water, then sponge down suits or gymslips to remove shine and clean them.    For one creature, our beautiful Holly Blue butterfly, the holly and the ivy are necessary for its existence.  This butterfly is quite happy to grace your garden, so if you see a blue butterfly there, it's almost certain to be a Holly Blue.  The spring brood will lay eggs on the flower buds of holly although, if unavailable, other plants will do.  When they become adults and mate, they lay their eggs on ivy.  The ivy brood over winter as chrysalids and emerge in the spring to lay their eggs on holly.  And the cycle begins again.
For more information on the Holly Blue try  Another very attractive site is Linda Walls' Linda is currently suffering from a serious illness and we wish her success in her treatment.  She lived for 11 years in Wokingham before moving to Cirencester.  For plant lore, treat yourself (quite expensive but worth it) to the monumental book 'Flora Britannica' by Richard Mabey, a guide to our wild flowers, plants and trees which includes lots of local superstition.


The Secret Lives of Garden Birds by Dominic Couzens ISBN 0-7136-6616An RSPB book, very entertainingly written, well illustrated, goes through the calendar year, for all the family.
How to be a bad birdwatcher by Simon Barnes ISBN 1-904095-95-X pub by Short Books.  More than just a book about birds, it's a delight and "can help us all to a better understanding of our place on this planet."

Find out about where you live, with two books from the Earley Local History Group, available from Earley Town Council Offices
Earley Days-An illustrated account of our community's development - packed with information on how Earley developed.
Earley Memories- A Century of Change - fascinating contemporary accounts of people
remembering life in Earley in the twentieth century.  Normally £14.99 each, but bring this
newsletter into the Earley Town Council Offices and you can have each for  £11.99.

Laminated, well illustrated, folded identification charts to carry in your rucksack or car on a variety of wildlife subjects, e.g. butterflies, grasses, trees and several others, suitable for children, also available from Earley Town Council Offices. £2.50 each

Presents for children:
Membership of the Natural History Museum at Membership, Natural History Museum
Cromwell Road, London,SW7 5BD
Tel: 020 7942 5792 or
Laminated cards (as above)

Pet Fayre 9 Maiden Lane Centre Lower Earley
A small independent shop, with bird feeders of all kinds, a variety of bird feed, large bags of which the shop is willing to deliver locally, or pick it up in your car from the back of the shop  Tel 0118 9266512, or  e mail

The True Food Co-op,  Silverdale Centre
You might also be interested to know that there is now a True Food Co-op operating in Earley.  Their mission is to take low cost organic food out to the people, bypassing the supermarkets which charge a lot for organics, and making it convenient for people to buy  - you don't have to take the car or, if you do, not very far.   They appear every 2 weeks at the Silverdale Centre on the second & fourth Fridays 5pm to 8.15pm   If you're interested they have a website giving dates

If you have no computer and would like to access any of the websites in the newsletter, your local library has computers for public use.  If you're not a member, you need to join.  They also do 2-hour instruction sessions.

It would be helpful, if you are receiving a hard copy of this newsletter but have an internet address, if you could send me these details, as this would save paper.  If you would like to contribute to the newsletter or want a particular subject covered, please write to Sheila Crowson, 2 Reeds Avenue, Earley RG6 5SR or e-mail

The WEA are running a course on wildlife gardening.  This is a 5-meeting course on Monday evenings, 7.30 - 9.30 pm from 9 Jan 2006 at Silverdale Youth Centre with an expert, Dr.Colin Ryall.  Ring by latest mid December Bent Weber, 0118 926 5200 for details.

 News From the Park Ranger   Maiden Erlegh Local Nature Reserve

Progress on the Maiden Erlegh Local Nature Reserve continues apace.  The meadows have all been cut and raked to ensure that they stay in good condition and an additional “scallop” of wildflowers has been sown and planted on Instow Road, with another area being prepared for planting in 2006 or 2007.

The southern bank of the lake is being reshaped at present in preparation for the planting of a new reedbed and other marginal vegetation.  This will provide shelter and food for fish fry and the chicks of the ducks, moorhens, coots, etc.

The paths around the lake are also receiving attention, with the large protruding stones being raked off and, where necessary, additional fine stones rolled into the surface.

In Meadow Park, the restoration of the two meadows is now complete.  After removing the dominant grass, rotovating, raking and planting over 2000 wildflower plants, the areas have been sown with a grass-free wildflower mix.
The Earley Environmental Group are planning to try and persuade the District Council to set aside areas for biodiversity in all of its parks and open spaces.  Your backing will be essential if the group is to make this dream a reality.      
Grahame Hawker


Contact the EEG WebMaster