Sunday 8 August 2021

Counting Cambridges

 Here, as a counterweight to most of the current 'news', is a nice, cheering story. It's good to know that the Cambridges are taking part in the Big Butterfly Count, doing their bit to 'track the number of diversity of the insects', as the BBC puts it (I fancy these pieces are written in haste). 
  Oddly enough, I've just been writing about how the perceived 'uselessness' of butterflies had, in premodern times, the double effect of making them irrelevant or mildly deplorable in the Christian worldview and, from a more practical angle, not worth finding out about, still less distinguishing into species. All that useless beauty (to paraphrase Elvis Costello) began to cast its spell later: the first major butterfly books were produced by men (and women) who were as much artists as scientists. And, as more was found out about them, butterflies found a new kind of utility, embodying the wonder of creation and the purposes of God. Since then, a more purely scientific approach has taken over, and for a while utility was set aside – these creatures were worthy subjects of study in themselves. Now, at a time when it's safe to say that most people know far less about butterflies than their net-wielding great grandfathers would have done, the ever more popular insects have found a new utility – as 'vital parts of the ecosystem'. Each age sees butterflies in its own way and finds its own value in them. 
  Anyway, it is good that the Cambridges are taking a lively interest in butterflies. My own interest this year has been as lively as ever, but somewhat hampered by poor weather and too much domestic/family busyness, though I've managed to clock up my usual thirtysomething species (and hope for a couple more). Most recently, I took advantage of a rare sunny morning to pay a visit to my nearest decent patch of chalk downland, and found it alive with Chalkhill Blues – a sight to gladden the heart. But I wasn't counting.

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