Sunday 4 September 2022

Back to Nature

It occurs to me that this year the blog has been unusually thin on Nature Notes, in particular my usual excited reports of butterfly sightings. There have been various reasons for this, chief among them the fact of much toing and froing between London and the 'city of philosophers', and all the associated busyness – time- and energy-consuming and often frustrating – of trying to find a house to buy. With all this going on, I have been roaming the Surrey hills and downs far less often than I would have done in a normal year (those hills and downs that might soon be looming in my memory like Housman's blue remembered hills). It has also been, undeniably, a funny year, dominated in the South by some spells of ferocious heat and a persistent drought. The heat, it seems, was sometimes too much even for butterflies, and, combined with the searing drought, certainly had dire effects on the food plants and even the early life stages (larvae, pupae) of many species. These factors, and other oddities of this year's weather, perhaps explain the lack of abundance that I've written about before (both this year and last, as it happens) – a lack of abundance that seems to have prevailed across most of the insect kingdom this summer: could this be the 'insect apocalypse' of which we have been warned? I devoutly hope not, and that a more 'normal' spring and summer next year, with decent amounts of rain, will bring the numbers back up. 
   Happily, the lack of abundance (of butterflies) was not in evidence in Derbyshire, where I have spent the past few days. Yesterday, when the sun was out, I saw in one spot a fine gathering of numerous Tortoiseshells, Red Admirals and Commas (not Peacocks – they've had a bad summer) feeding eagerly on Buddleia, as well as a late but bright Common Blue, a particularly beautiful Green-Veined White and a Brimstone, not to mention late Speckled Woods still wearily on the wing. I have had few such experiences down South this year, where the only reliable abundance has been of Small Whites, still flying everywhere, full of life. On the other hand, there have certainly been moments of more general abundance, especially before the drought really began to kick in, and, in the places where they can be found, Chalkhill Blues have been as numerous as ever, and I have seen more of those beautiful Dark Green Fritillaries than ever before. So yes, a funny old year, presumably my last in these parts: next year I hope to be roaming the Staffordshire countryside to see what I can find...

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