The weather-wise were predicting a June Heatwave, but so far it has utterly, miserably and completely failed to materialise.
We're not getting much rain either. Just relentlessly cold windy days where the sun makes brief, sporadic appearances and blasts down for a few minutes burning everything in sight before disappearing again. It makes dressing difficult- do you go out in a woolly hat, gloves and a coat and be, for the most part, toasty and just accept that there will be whole minutes when you boil, or do you don t-shirts and flipflops and spend much of the day shivering for the odd minute when you feel just right.
I have given up trying to decide, go for the warm option and reach the end of the day feeling grumpy as a result.
It's Tough Weather for flutters and tougher still for those of us who enjoy seeing them. In odd sheltered spots they are out, but for the most part they remain hunkered down at the base of thick vegetation, and who can blame them?
I have seen the odd one or two, but on a recent trip up to the Down in search of Adonis who have been spotted locally (although 'tis early yet for them to be out) numbers generally were definitely down and the Adonis, that most brilliant and breath-taking of butterflies, stayed away.
The Butterfly Wizard calls this the June Gap and says he only expects to see Adonis when the Orchids are in full bloom. Seen as they have only just started there is probably a week or so still to wait (if the sun ever gets its act together and banishes the wind, that is).
The Chalk is its own world. I love it up there. It has its own energy, its own plants and butterflies. It is separate, and distinct, crossed through with ancient trackways trodden by sheep, cattle and man for thousands of years, adorned with Rings and Barrows and Old Fortresses. The Beech Trees that grow on Chalk, always near these ancient sites, feel like sentries to places humans don't routinely acknowledge. I am at home on The Chalk.
I can often feel, when we go out to look for things (especially on The Chalk) whether it's going to be a day of seeing them or not. I knew yesterday wasn't a Seeing Day. Perhaps it was about something else, a reconnecting after a period of absence, a refamiliarising with Old Friends who've been below ground since last summer. Above all, a Remembering.
|White Hellborine, a rare Orchid|
|Horseshoe Vetch, favoured food plant of the Adonis|
|An ant hill covered with wild thyme and rock rose|
Ten thousand years ago, Britain was covered in Ice (more or less). When eventually the climate rebalanced and the Great Ice Sheets retreated back to the Frozen North, the trees came. First Pine and Birch, then Hazel, Lime, Oak, Holly, Willow. In a determined march Northwards they recolonised the Land that had been dormant beneath the Ice for so long.
Mankind followed, about three thousand years later, and discovered a land of The Wildwood. During the next two thousand years the Hunter Gatherers morphed slowly into Farmers. By that time we had lost most of our mega fauna and the Apex predators were also on their way out. Slowly, steadily, irreversibly, The Wildwood was cleared, making way for fields and livestock and settlement, and the ecology of the land was changed forever.
They were efficient at clearing the woods and ploughing the earth, these men, more so once they had invented Iron to cleave and split the fibres of the trees and slice the clods of soils, and by two and a half thousand years ago only fifty percent of the Wildwood remained.
The majority of our native species are descendants from this Wildwood: they are evidence of the Land's arboreal past.
But Blue butterflies are different. Blue Butterflies hint at the presence of areas where there were no trees. Of places where sunlight reached the ground and other species existed that have nothing to do with woods, with cycles of light and shade, with the fertile soils of forests. It is a much debated point amongst ecologists, one I've engaged in with my lecturers before, because it challenges the traditional notion that the Trees stretched from Coast to Coast and, if you were so persuaded, you could, eight thousand years ago, have crossed the entirety of the land from tree to tree never needing to touch the ground once.
75% of Blue Butterflies in the UK have a symbiotic relationship with ants. Some have it with only one species of Ant (this is why Large Blues died out in the 1970s), others with more than one species. But essentially the relationships are the same.
When the butterfly cats hatch from their eggs they go down to the base of the food plant as night falls and they sing to the ants. As yet, we don't know how they do it. Whether it's a vibration or how it's made, but the ants respond by covering the cats with soil and patrolling around them through the night to keep them safe. In return, the cats produce honey dew, a sweet tasting liquid that the ants feed on. In some relationships, the cats are actually taken inside the ant hill where they feed on ant larvae.
Why does this relationship suggest that The Wildwood had gaps in it? Because the ant hills associated with Blue butterflies don't exist within woods- they are on the steep hillsides of Chalk Downland, and the five thousand years that have passed since man started making clearings in the wood is not believed to be long enough for relationships of this complexity to have developed.
The Chalk, and The Blues and The Ant Hills are Touchstones with the Past, Secret-Keepers for the History of the Land. If you know how to read them, they'll tell you the secret stories of the past, the narrative of a time that existed long before people shaped these islands, a time when nature was in charge and man the briefest of fleeting, transient memories, passing through before the Ice came.
Briefly, because you've been kind enough to stay with me and read thus far, I'll finish with some pics from Oot And Aboot over the last few days....
|Crab spider predating Rhogogaster viridis, a type of Sawfly|
|Dog Rose growing wild on The Chalk|
|Teeny Tiny flies on a plant|
|Green Hairstreak, my favourite :o)|
|A pair of mating Green Shieldbugs|
|An Iron Prominent moth|
|a Silver Ground Carpet moth (day flying so keep your eyes peeled)|
|Woundwort shieldbug eggs- right at the top of the plant. Can you see them?|
|The rather unfortunately named Dingy Skipper|
|Bees nesting in a hole in a brick wall|
|Dicentra (a present from M to celebrate The New Job :o) ) and accompanying hoverfly|
|Foxgloves in the late light|
|Mrs Bradshaw Geum, who has been flowering since February, bless her :o)|
|A sea of Nepeta, beloved of Bees of all Shapes And Sizes|
|Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) from Africa|
|Painted Lady underwing|
|Delphs in a Walled Garden|
Happy Days :o)
Hope you're all well?