The Riddle of the Shales

 

Life and Death in West Yorkshire in 2010

 

The Strange Case of the Disappearing Green Hairstreak

 

         The Green Hairstreaks were late in emerging in 2010. We put this down to the exceptionally cold winter of 2009/10. But we were sure of one thing: this once rare butterfly restricted to a very few localities, even as late as 1990, was here to stay and could be found on any sizeable patch of bilberry in West Yorkshire. Our plans for 2010 were extremely ambitious. We had hoped to spend the night in a bell pit on Baildon Moor using night vision to film mating pairs of hairstreaks, having counted five pairs around the perimeter of one of the pits the previous year. We also had intended to mark a number of butterflies to establish the details of gender specific behaviour. So many, many plans - even getting in close to film the act of egg laying. And then came the shock of May 10th described in the entry below. I remember lying on the bilberry covered shales of Holly Bank Bluff between Bradford and Halifax for a couple of hours thinking this cannot be true and that next week the butterfly would start up from every bilberry patch just as it had done in previous years. And then over the course of the next few days a horrible truth began to dawn: a local extinction of colossal proportions had taken place. During the fearsome cold of February 2010, tens of thousands of Green Hairstreak pupae had perished on this outcrop of the Silkstone coal seam that, in 1850, was a contender for the world’s largest industrial site. Dreams had been dreamed here and magic clung to the place, for this valley would have rung to the sound of Chartist agitation.

       When the drift mines had been abandoned, some of the land had been enclosed, soil carted in and turned into fields for pasture animals, especially sheep. The entry to the biggest drift mine had been filled in long ago and at the top, to one side, just by the main Halifax to Bradford road, there were the remains of a sheepfold. The rest of the site had been turned over to nature to do as it pleased. Did the bilberry first root here in the19th century and did it take a century for it to cover the steep hillsides, still threaded with sheep tracks and which now serve as informal footpaths? Contrasting with these undulating pleats just wide enough for the average footfall, is the broad, descending arc of a railway along which wagonloads of coal would have been drawn by horses well over 100 years ago. At intervals along the gradient are landing stages, flattened hillocks of earth which highland cattle would regularly bask on, whilst nearby kids would swing on a rope attached to the branch of a dead tree and which oddball families would picnic beneath, their happy-go-lucky shouts echoing around the derelict industrial amphitheatre.  

        The entire site exuded informality: this was a landscape it was possible to interact with rather than just pass through. Like all the best landscapes it was a shunned landscape and only rarely did we encounter anyone else and then they were hurrying through. A pair of shy roe deer could occasionally be seen but never long enough to film before they vanished into the copses of pine. Since the turn of the millennia a couple of buzzards had begun to nest here and, according to the owner of an automobile scrap yard situated in the industrial estate below, they would regularly take a rest from quartering the ground beneath and alight on the pylons. These pylons would figure prominently in our film footage of the ‘industrial’ Green Hairstreak, as did the factories in the valley bottom below. In fact it was this site more than any other newly discovered Green Hairstreak site that focused our minds on the relationship between industry and the vastly increased spread of the butterfly in the last decade of the 20th century in West Yorkshire. Even on thehigh moor of Ovenden just opposite Holly Bank Bluff, we noticed how bilberry would prosper on piles of excavated shale, some possibly centuries old, whilst none could be found on the extensive waterlogged parts of the peat moor. The old, still partially paved, packhorse trails that crossed the moors would also act as drainage channels, the hanging mats of bilberry that sprang up along the dried out flanks of the sunken causeways an ideal habitat for the Green Hairstreak. The still extant bell pits on Baildon Moor, though a mere fraction of the 300+ that had once pitted the moor a century ago, have certainly played a major role in helping conserve the butterfly, for the Green Hairstreak does tend to congregate around the perimeters and huddle in the protected, sunny hollows on the bright, cold days of spring. (Actually Baildon Moor is an exception to the general rule, the Green Hairstreak emerging in similar numbers to other years even on the lower slopes of the quarry - whereas on Bare Head Quarry, and on the surrounding slopes at the top of Shibden Dale just over the top from Holly Bank Buff, the pupae froze to death in their 1000s and to our dismay we did not see one Green Hairstreak. Why the former massive industrial site of Baildon Moor should be immune is a mystery we are unable, as yet, to unravel merely guess at.) 

        From the late 1990s we tracked the incoming Green Hairstreak, the year-on colonization of Holly Bank Bluff eventually reaching Howcans, where once a workhouse had stood, on the outskirts of Halifax. It was a dream location, the shots we took more in the spirit of an ideal rendering of the future rather than a capturing of the present with all its contradictions. The steep sides of the bluff allowed me to pan back from a window in the terraced housing behind the factories far below to bring into focus a Green Hairstreak on a sprig of bilberry. Footage of a Green Hairstreak caught in a sudden downpour slowly crawling from the topside of a holly leaf to the underneath, each foot forward requiring a mighty effort, was framed against wet factory roofs. A pair of mating Green Hairstreaks hung in silence from a hawthorn branch. Off set by the red brick of the former woolen mills in the valley bottom, it was like time had come to a standstill. A spectrum on the future the colours appearing so intensely jived up, it was as much a metamorphosis as an actual recording. However in other instances, the link between the Chartist past and a new harmony of man, nature and industry was not such a palpable one. And so we filmed hairstreaks on the appropriately named Windy Bank Lane that cuts through the site at a oblique angle, in fact a busy road with lots of passing traffic, the drivers oblivious to the beauties of this enigmatic butterfly and the many unanswered questions its existence, particularly in these parts, gives rise to. Though the numbers held up on the high moors of Ilkley and Ovenden, the Green Hairstreak was absent from the lower slopes of Ilkley Moor, the West Chevin and on the shales of Holly Bank Bluff, Oats Royd and in Shibden Dale between Bradford and Halifax. It had also disappeared from along the banksides of the former railway line between Ripponden and Rochdale where we had first discovered the butterfly in 1996. It was a disturbing, ominous sign and so we were surprised when others from Lancashire, Cumbria, Wales and Scotland did not corroborate our findings.  Full of apprehension we await the spring of 2011……………………

        My diaries registering this unexpected and shattering event are also an attempt at an explanation. I am still unable to say why the Green Hairstreaks disappeared from the lower hillsides of the high moors with any degree of certainty. Studying the literature on soil microclimate and thermal conductivity of rocks and soils has made me aware of how much I don’t know. I have run through a number of explanations, even occasionally doubting if the sub zero temperatures were, after all, the major factor in their disappearance. I became aware of how little we know about the life cycle of this butterfly, crucially, in this instance, the kind of environment favored by the caterpillar on pupation. When fully grown the caterpillar leaves the food plant and goes in search of a pupation site. The pupa has been found in ants’ nests and on Ovenden Moor I made a point of checking for black ants, which wasn’t difficult as these black specks were ever so conspicuous as they scurried across the silvery gray, desiccating peat. Volume 7 of the Emmett/Heath series of Moths and Butterflies of Great Britain and Ireland states “in the majority of cases where pupae have been found in the wild they have been covered over with soil particles by ants”. However it is possible the larvae might also burrow just beneath the soil surface.  It is known that peat protects the covering layer against freezing and since peat is not a compacted soil even the small, rather inert, grub-like larvae of the Green Hairstreak should experience little difficulty pushing aside peat soil particles. Moreover, since peat is organic matter in the process of being composted, it also produces heat from the microbial oxidation of carbon. Is the Green Hairstreak larvae hardwired to look for a cosy spot in which to pupate, peat in particular radiating inviting warmth? Peat also readily absorbs the sun’s rays and on a sunny day gives moorland that characteristic quivering look, the temperature gradient through which peat passes during a twenty four hour period often exceeding 30 degrees. Covered in three inches of snow, Ilkley Moor will still shimmer on a bright winters day whilst in the fields far below the air hangs motionless. Though peat is a poorly drained soil, tending to produce boggy conditions that blanket large areas of moorland (e.g. Ovenden Moor), this does not mean, even when it freezes, that it loses its thermal properties. Saturation increases heat flow by filling the void between soil particles and, even when frozen, the high thermal conductivity of ice has to be taken into account, day upon day of bright sunshine accompanying the severe cold spell of the winter of 2009-10.

       Moorland soils are skeletal soils, which mean soils in the making, and the range of variation can be considerable within a small area. On Ilkley Moor around The Masts and the Thimble Stones, the peat turns almost black, which indicates a sandy loam created through the weathering (wind, rain, freezing, solifluction) of the gritstone that has merged with the vegetable humus. Even in summer it can be very boggy, the bilberry hugging the rock fragments in various stages of disintegration that have accumulated around the outcropping rock. During the cold spell the spot must have been a sheet of ice. However it had no affect whatsoever on the numbers of Green Hairstreaks hereabouts that emerged in the spring of 2010.  And there I had it! The answer lay in the soil after all. And all that remained to do was refine my explanation. Clearly there was no peat cover on the sites on which there had been a local extinction and that included the lower slopes of Ilkley Moor - Rocky Valley and the hillside that sweeps down from White Wells Visitors Centre to the pumping station on the Keighley Rd, my photographs of the Green Hairstreak on the gorse bushes on the lower reaches perhaps now historic. However this explanation breaks down once we consider the anomalous case of Baildon Moor…………

          Now the meta-population of the Green Hairstreak in the Bradford area, Baildon Moor is also a classic example of a former industrial site now partly reclaimed by nature (and the hideous sport of golf!) and so not all that different to Holly Bank Bluff, Oats Royd and to a lesser extent Shibden Dale, a former quarrying site. By the 18th/19th century most farms had their own small quarries, the hewing of rock faces on moor uplands one step on from the practice of the delving of gritstone boulders which have broken away from rock escarpments. These miniature quarries have tended to become wild life havens and now shelter Green Hairstreaks from the chill spring winds. On Otley Chevin, the landslip of boulders, locally known as “the big field”, was for long virtually the only site the Green Hairstreak could be seen in the Bradford Metropolitan District. Unlike the lower slopes of the valley of the River Wharfe below, the hillside was saved from being picked clean of rock by the opening of medium scale quarries on the east and west Chevin, stone becoming more bourgeoisified as it ceased to be used primarily for high status manorial and religious buildings. This unremarkable occurrence became, by default, a conservation stroke of luck that bore fruit many years later, the combination of gritstone covered by a dense matt of moss and bilberry on “the big field” providing an ideal habitat and micro climate in which the Green Hairstreak could thrive. Even so numbers in 2010 were drastically down on previous years and the sad fact remains the butterfly could well be heading toward extinction on the Chevin. It certainly seems to have gone from Brow Ghyll (at the bottom of which runs the former Menston/Otley line) on the West Chevin, our film footage and 120 size photos of the butterfly on the brow (where we discovered it in 1999) now also possibly historic.

         However the main thrust behind the expansion of quarrying operations in the area were the enclosure awards of the 1790s resulting in miles of walling, plus the fact the rapidly expanding industrial towns of Bradford and Halifax also needed masses of stone. Bare Head Quarry at the top of Shibden Dale is a prime example of quarrying on an industrial scale, as are the disused quarries on Baildon Moor, the difference being the Green Hairstreak continues to thrive in the latter but not the former. An outlier of the Silkstone seam, the 18 inch layer of coal has been mined for centuries in adits that ran as far as 200 yards underground on Baildon Moor. Initially seasonal work, most of the coal was scratched from the surface by male and female farm workers during the winter slack period, the use of coal increasing in proportion to the decline of woodland and the loss, due to enclosure, of the commoners’ right of turbary - the cutting of peat for fuel. Even after the discovery of the 1,530ft deep Barnsley seam in1854, Baildon Moor was still extensively worked - this time for ganister clay that was used in the Bessemer process of steel manufacture: free of alkalis it was highly refractory and was used for lining furnaces. The twenty four foot layer of clay lies just below the coal seam, a fact that may explain why it is still possible, on parts of the moor, to shovel up surface coal just as in mediaeval times - only this time the loose coal has not been exposed by erosion but brought to the surface and left because it was necessary to first remove the coal to get at the more commercial clay beneath. However this casual practice of well over 100 years ago has produced today’s extraordinary happenstance of Green Hairstreaks basking on lumps of coal! Where else in Britain is it possible to see this?

        Ovenden Moor was also mined for its coal and ganister clay as well as quarried for its gritstone, the debris establishing dry islands on a largely water logged peat moor, bilberry taking root on these well drained mounds left by the industrial workings.  However on Baildon Moor the original covering of peat has long gone the substrate largely a leftover from the moor’s long industrial past. And yet there were as many Green Hairstreak on the moor in 2010 as in previous years, whilst on nearby Ilkley Moor, the Green Hairstreak was all but obliterated on its lower slope, despite the fact the Ilkley Moor terrain has, in many respects, barely changed since the tree clearances of the “Neolithic Disturbance” several thousand years ago. This is the reason why I have subtitled this piece The Riddle of the Shales because assuming my theory of the fundamental importance of peat in conserving heat is, at least, partially correct, then, by rights, the butterfly should have perished on Baildon Moor. However, against all the odds, the Green Hairstreak is doing well on the moor. The moral is a humbling one:  second-guessing nature’s immense complexity will assuredly end in tears at some point or other.                  

          Some of the above material has been taken from a film script I began to work on around 2005. Provisionally titled A Green and Dingy Future, the aim was to contrast the fate of the Dingy Skipper with that of the Green Hairstreak whose future seemed assured when compared with the lot of the Dingy Skipper. The title was meant to echo in the nether regions, conjuring up an elemental conflict between the zenith of hope and nadir of despair, for at that time I had been sent reeling by the wanton destruction of the Dingy Skipper in the name of the ‘sensitive’ ecological makeovers of former colliery spoil heaps in West / South Yorkshire and elsewhere. I was also becoming yearly more sure that the advance of the Green Hairstreak into the region was being helped by the heaped-up residues of the region’s industrial past, an impression that was confirmed when I found the butterfly on Ovenden Moor and then cavorting in abundance around the bell pits on Baildon Moor in 2008.  I had by then begun to reclassify the butterfly as an ‘industrial’ butterfly though not to the same extent as the Dingy Skipper. Rereading my notes, I was forcibly struck by the speed at which tailings from deep mining fundamentally altered the topography of entire regions as coal production shifted eastwards, mere mounds becoming industrial mountains of spoil in the blink of a eye when compared with the time it takes for the collision of tectonic plates to do the same. There was nothing in the past that could remotely compare with this engineered upheaval of the earth’s crust, one that also required a much greater injection of capital than had hitherto been the case in the coal mining industry.  And then how these dark, satanic hills, against every likelihood, eventually became safe havens for the once common Dingy Skipper only to perish – grimmest of ironies - in the hands of their bogus guardians whose real purpose was to attract internal investment through bland, eye candy landscaping that merely gave the impression of nature.

          I had endeavored to get footage of Dingy Skippers against a noisy background of dumper trucks, JCBs and passing trains, for this was also ‘truth to nature’. But not any more, the butterfly vanishing with the excavating machinery from nearly all former spoil heaps. And so one day, watching a Green Hairstreak at rest on bilberry on Ovenden Moor during the spring of 2007, I noticed in the distance a JCB to the side of Thornton Rd beginning to remove the topsoil from what had once been a pit prior to World War Two. Locals who can remember that far back will tell you that Thornton Rd running north east from Bradford city centre was once regarded as the coal road. A more searching look established the lone JCB I had spotted was part of an extensive open cast operation and which is undoubtedly the most polluting and environmentally destructive form of coal extraction there is. However for the moment this was not at issue and, in a sense, I was taking up from where I had left off with the Dingy Skipper. I needed to visually prove a point and on a cool overcast day I succeeded in getting, in the same sequence, microscopic footage in the wild of the butterfly’s anatomical details, including its antenna, wing scaling ruffled by the wind and black velvet eyes fringed with handsome white lashes (its scientific name callophrys means “beautiful eye brow” in Greek) combined with distance shots of earth moving equipment. To get that near - and far - was quite an achievement, never mind the striking juxtaposition that, at the risk of overstatement, sought to place the butterfly in a previously overlooked perspective. Consulting my notes, I see that soft bed coal, the seam measuring around 20 inches thick, had been worked throughout the Denholme and Thornton districts as can be shown by the many remains of spoil heaps and shafts “like at the Hollin Hall colliery, 530 yards WNW   of Denholme Church”. In July of 2010 I passed the same church, noting the presence of elms in the churchyard. At the foot of the hill on which the church stands, I found a number of small wych elms on the site of a demolished factory leading into Denholme. I have yet to see the White Letter Hairstreak on these elms; though I remain convinced it’s only a matter of time, the point being that the White Letter behind everyone’s back has flown in from the countryside, to take up residence in industrially derelict sites on the quiet. I see also that I had taken notes on the Dingy Skipper from The Millennium Atlas of Butterflies of Britain and Ireland, commenting in the margins how sites of industrial dereliction had been played down, there being no mention of spoil heaps at all. Yet our earliest memory of the butterfly in the 1950s in Co Durham is of it starting up from beneath out feet on cinder paths that led from a railway station to an industrial estate.

         One question leads to another, and I wonder if the butterfly has repeatedly come and gone in the West York’s area over the past 10,000 years? It would be possible to scientifically establish by examining the pollen-grain components of core samples, if bilberry was present amongst the shrubby undergrowth of the formerly tree covered uplands prior to the “Neolithic Disturbance”. However it is highly doubtful if we shall ever know if the Green Hairstreak was also present. The thought also occurs to me; have the present behavioral characteristics of the butterfly on the moors evolved in response to the clear felling of the moorlands over many hundreds of years? Egg laying females appear, for instance, to prefer the new shoots of bilberry measuring little more than 3 inches that poke up through the turf to those of older, bushier plants, which in any case never grow to the spindly, shrub-like size of woodland bilberry. It is still a mystery to us why the Green Hairstreak was such a rarity in West and South Yorks throughout the 19th and most of the 20th century. for instance as late as 1989 Suttonand Beaumont, the joint authors of The Butterflies and Moths of Yorkshire (1989), claim there are few records of the butterfly in South and West Yorkshire, though with the exception of East Yorkshire where it was even rarer, they could be found throughout North Yorkshire in “small, well defined colonies”. They note that the winter of 1988/89 was the warmest on record and that “recent changes in the distribution of butterflies and moths in Yorkshire could be taken as indicating a warming influence”. Are warmer winters after all the key to its sudden, and spectacular, expansion during the last two decades of the 20th century, though particularly after 1996? Moving off the high moors, perhaps the butterfly was able to successfully over winter on lower ground where there was not the same protective cover as on higher ground. We have also debated the question why weren't individual females blown off course by the prevailing winds to end up on hospitable moors like Ilkley and Ovenden during the 19th and 20th century. Perhaps there were just too few of them for this means of dispersal to successfully take place.

       All the three hairstreaks here mentioned have been, to varying degrees, deeply affected by human activity reaching way back into the distant past. There is a hidden dialectic at work here, a concept of interactivity that fatally undermines bourgeois notions of nature as a discrete object to be put on display and looked at and behind which lurks a fear that conservation, if it is to be more than just a name and a sham, urgently requires direct action. To properly understand this disregarded dimension we need a more objective, rational dialectic than Hegel’s, which as causa sui gives life to all things, a quite preposterous claim. Some task!

 

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     10th MAY 2010

       Went to Holly Bank between Bradford and Halifax. Absolutely jiggered, I could only manage to scramble around the holly trees and bushes. Though briefly warm when the sun came out, there were no Green Hairstreaks.  Really they should be out by now. Saw a Common Heath moth, but only one.

      Descending the path to Howcans Lane I was approached by a teenager and two girls asking the way to ‘a piece’; a graffiti on a wall at the bottom of the bluff. I was taken aback. It was possible to slide under the barbed wire and I was on the point of doing so. I instead pointed to a stone stile and said, “Go through there”. The lack of initiative amazed me, like they were not accustomed to the countryside and could only follow the geometry of roads.

      Sitting behind me on the National Express coach coming up, was a single parent black woman. I dreaded the prospect of the kid crying all the way up to Leeds. In fact the kid was as good as gold and only woke up passing Woolley Colliery. Unable to stop the kid crying she played him so rap music - shooting, killing, effings, blindings. The kid immediately went to sleep.

 

          

              Above: The area below Howcans. Now denuded of Green Hairstreaks

 

    11th May 2010:  Baildon Moor                    

     Deliberately did not take a camera - and then regretted it. I could have filmed a mating pair of Green Hairstreaks in a hailstorm. But I was depressed, my legs aching - still heavy with a cold. We encountered the first two Green Hairstreaks on a gorse bush. Have never seen them here before.

      However we began to find a number in the bell pits all, excepting one, in good condition. The dominant form was the ab: caeca with an intermediate form with two spots on the lower hind wing. Next came the ab: punctata with the ‘normal’ form the least common.

      The more I got into observing – entering into the spirit of the thing - the more my mood lightened. Sitting on the perimeter of the bell pits waiting for the sun to come out, I thought of the difference between myself and Engels in his later years - how he felt the cause was advancing by leaps and bounds, ecstatic when he heard of the number of   deputies elected to the Reichstag in 1892 and then the leaden weight I carry around - that these are, short of a miracle, the last days of mankind. We spoke of the absence of pleasure and any fulfillment, and the hopelessness of relationships in between observing Green Hairstreaks.

      The bilberry this year is redder than I have seen it; the new shoots the same colour practically as the flower heads. Last year the bilberry was far greener, the anthocyanin colouring much less in evidence. The Meadow Pipits were in abundance perching on last year’s dead bracken on the area of the moor adjacent to Baildon.

 

             

               Above: The Baildon quarries in 2010. Amazingly, the Green Hairstreak is still thriving here.

 

     12th May 2010: Baildon Moor

      Tonight may prove to be the coldest on record for this time of year. The Green Hairstreaks appear to be unaffected on Baildon Moor by the adverse weather of last year and this. We found most resting amongst bilberry next to the bell pits though we did see one resting on a green plastic bag at the bottom of one of the deeper bell pits.  It was buzzed by another male (presumably) and flew off. W e both noticed how warm the ground was in the bell pits as we waited for the cloud to clear. Unfortunately it did not     and we took refuge in a sani-lav shelter on the golf course. I thought a cyclist was coming to join us but he stayed outside in the hail and rain, friendly banter passing between us as we left once the rain eased. Even this sort of trivial banter is cheering in a steadily darkening world.

      We decided to return via Shipley Glen finding large areas of bilberry and just a few likely bell pits but most were covered with dead bracken. However the bracken also conserves heat and it could be caterpillars pupate beneath it. Must investigate this part of the site further.

      Guy on bus, filthy yellow baseball cap, two fingers missing from right hand, giant cornflakes packet in shopping bag, discussing how to cook chicken legs; probably once a machinist in a woolen mill.

    

      13th May 2010: Shipley Station

      Delighted to find that the bird’s foot trefoil I planted ten years ago is still flourishing despite much of it being uprooted when disability lifts were installed. The fact that the earth was scrapped bare of vegetation may even be now helping it spread. When I sat down in Shipley Square, noting and commenting on passersby, that sense of achievement still lingered and leant a glow to things.

 

     14th May 2010: Bell pits Baildon Moor

      A dull, quite cool overcast day with some sunshine. It was the approach to the bell pits that yielded the most Green Hairstreaks. Again the majority was either the ab: punctata and ab: caeca with just two specimens the normal forms.

       Holed up in bell pits for best part of two hours. A Green Hairstreak detached itself from a sprig of bilberry and flew down the bell pit to repose on the soft rush at the bottom. We slid down and found the ground was quite cool at the bottom. Maybe the hairstreaks roost around the perimeter of the bell pits and only seek shelter in them during the day when the sun is up because at night they are markedly colder.

      Photographed a moth new to me. I thought initially it was an extreme variant of a Common Heath but on inspection I realized it wasn’t. It is a Carpet – possibly a Ringed Carpet. Skinner says it is found locally in south Dorset, Wilts, Berkshire. But no mention of Yorkshire. But could have moved northwards because of warming?  The larvae feed on bilberry and heath (?) there is a Scottish race but the female appears to be considerable darker than the female I photographed.

       Very memorable sitting at the bottom of the bell pits. Only by sliding down to the bottom did we realize how cold it was even for us, never mind the Green Hairstreaks who are much more sensitive to the slightest alterations in temperature. Chasing Green Hairstreaks over the years I have noticed how sensitive I have become to minute changes in temperature. I am trying to feel and respond like a Green Hairstreak would feel and respond.

        I wondered too if the men working the bell pits had found themselves in similar craters left by shells on the battlefields of northern France and if their last thoughts were of the bell pits on Baildon Moor. During the night I dreamt David occupied a pit spoil heap formerly belonging to the Arapaho tribe and fortified against ‘the enemy’.

 

        

      Above (left): Ringed Carpet. Above (right): Green Hairstreak on soft rush at the bottom of a bell pit on Baildon Moor

 

     15th May 2010: Holly Bank / Oats Royd

       We roamed the length and breadth, the higher and lower slopes and did not see one Green Hairstreak. The same went for Oats Royd. We descended to Strine’s Beck where it was very warm. We began to wonder if there this was an extinction event due to severe winter weather. Not one appeared to have survived.  We simply couldn’t believe it.  It was like losing someone close to you in a sudden, unexpected manner. I was in a daze expecting to see one at any moment but only too well aware they may have departed the scene for good.  It was like losing a close friend. The entire scenery began to appear horribly barren as a result.

       Phoned Susan to find out she has seen only one. Eight - and no more - had been seen on Otley Chevin. Prof Howson had seen twenty including a mating pair toward the end of May near Beamsley Beacon which is close to Bardon Towers where a small colony was known to exist in the 19th century. These would have been accustomed to the harsh winters. Clearly the incomers of the past eighteen years are not.

      And what of other new comers - the Purple Hairstreaks, the Ringlet, the Hedge Brown, Brown Argus and Grayling - what of them?

      The ponds near Strine’s Beck which were once full of tadpoles - the bottom a writhing mass of them - were empty with not one tadpole to be seen.

       When I told Barbara she seemed more concerned with the fact social mobility was now dead and that a new public school educated middle class was emerging alongside state schools alumni from such placed as Camden Girls High and the school in Highgate the Miliband brothers attended. A sense of entitlement is bred into them, the rest of us   mere dross.

        Text to Rose, “there seems to have been a local extinction event because of severe winter frosts. The landscape now marked by an absence like I had lost a close friend and still expecting to see them”.

 

       

Above (right): Holly Bank Bluff between Queensbury and Halifax. This ravine was a post-millennium Green Hairstreak colonization and in the space of five years over the whole escarpment hundreds could be counted on the wing at the height of the emergence. Now Extinct! Above left: A Little Heath moth found by the side of the ravine in 2010. A rarity for the north!

 

    16th May 2010

       Decided to do a head count on Baildon. Saw our first two Green Hairstreaks descending to the quarries. Round and about this area we counted between 45/50 on a cold windy day with the occasional burst of sunshine. In fact there were as many as on the previous years, finding them in places we had never previously looked.

      The dominant forms were the ab: punctata (with a less pronounced arc of spots on the upper wing) and the ab: caeca. The ‘normal’ form as elsewhere on Baildon, was the ‘aberrant’ form.

      Some were slightly dished suggesting they had been out for a number of days; the quarry walls from the prevailing westerlies had protected them. However they were still to be found on the exposed slopes between the two roads leading into Baildon. As in the bell pits there are no perches here. But there is a lot of bracken and it is possible the larvae pupates under the bracken rather than down around the bilberry roots which does not provide the warm cover dead bracken fronds do during the winter months. Do ants also favour the bracken litter precisely for the same reason?

      Neither on Holly Bank or Oats Royd is bracken to be found anywhere. Nor is Hollybank covered with tussocks of sheep fescue as happens around the bell pits. However there are plenty of areas covered in sheeps fescue in Oats Royd where the green hairstreaks are also absent.  So this cannot be the complete explanation.

       Sitting in the bell pits sheltering from the biting winds and reflecting on the future lived out in biodomes to protect against the jovian storms of a cooking planet.

       Image then has to be reality but can never quite be that.  But illusion is all there is and consequential revolt a thing of the past. Hollow dreams are materialized but only as on electronic media having even less substance that Rimbaud’s drawing room at the bottom of a lake because the latter did lead to action not least the destruction of the role of poet as the first step.

       No revolutionary action will be possible because nature, having taken maximum revenge, prohibits it.

 

    21st May 2010: Baildon Moor

     Last night it was announced artificial life had been created “letters become life” as the announcer put it. Is this the new face of lettrisme-bio-lettrisme- the beginnings of our post human future?

      A warm, heavy day. Found a Green Hairstreak on the bilberry patches between the path that descends from the high moor and the golf course. This must be the closest the Green Hairstreak comes to housing in the Bradford district, the housing fronting the moor barely twenty five yards away.

      On reaching the road up to Dobrudden Caravan Site, saw at least five Brown Silver Line moths. There are also more common heaths than last week.

      Passed the usual bell pits looking for Green Hairstreaks, photographing one on a green Asda plastic bag at the bottom of one of the bell pits. The carrier bag was a hot spot that had been used by a Green Hairstreak last week when the temperature was cool.

       Decided to press on and investigate the broad patches of bilberry we had noticed last week, much higher up the moor and overlooking Shipley Glen.

       Glad I did so because after observing a number I became convinced the majority of butterflies were female. Unlike the males I did not see one nectaring, conserving their energy for the business of egg laying. It was the very short shoots the females were chiefly interested in-those that had just poked through the stem; the budding leaves a dark red colouring, the anthocyanins protecting the delicate shoots from the harmful ultra violet rays

       The higher moors where the bilberry was short peering through the tussocks of fescue which makes the task of walking that much more difficult may well be the main breeding ground of the butterfly - at least on this part of the moor. Three could be found flying over a small area some eight foot square - and all intent on sniffing out the short shoots rarely more than four inches in length. And it was the budding tip that chiefly interested the Green Hairstreaks. They could have been laying eggs but I needed binoculars to detect if they were. Sometimes I would mark the spot and scan the leaves with a magnifying glass-but to no avail. The females are obviously very particular. But very dedicated and would never fly up if disturbed by a fly or bee or another Green Hairstreak. 

        I decided to investigate a couple of bell pits with that had part of the rims and some of the side covered with bilberry. As I approached I became aware this was male territory and butterflies could be seen chasing each other in close flying formation, never actually colliding. Who is the victor in these contests, and how can we tell? In one of the bell pits I noticed a fresh looking Small Tortoiseshell (which was a joy to see) and it too was chased by a Green Hairstreak. The females I had been observing would never have behaved thus. So at least I have established something. Perhaps if I were to capture some and lay down a carpet of bilberry shoots plus some sheep fescue at the bottom of the cage I could get them to egg lay?  This experiment could help establish if short sward is the butterflies preferred egg laying habitats.

       Perhaps the steep sides of the bell pits function as perch in the absence of rowan, birch, and oak saplings. The sides would provide an over view of territory. Do the unmated females go looking for the males in the bell pits immediate surrounds? Do they make for these locations when the sun begins to go down from 3.30 onwards?

        Found a mating pair. Both were pretty dished and I wondered if this was a case of a female mating twice? I assumed when I saw the mating pair sometime around 4 15 in the afternoon that they had just mated. Around 17.00 hours they separated so maybe they had been mating sometime before that.

        I note that the first synthetic chromosome has a biological watermark; a quote from James Joyce: “To live, to err, to fall, to triumph, to recreate life out of life”.

       Sometimes I think my ideas are mad. The fact that such a quotation has been used as a watermark - junk DNA - suggest otherwise. This is a new form of malevolent bio-lettrisme.

       

      22nd May 2010: Baildon Moor

       The Green Hairstreaks are everywhere on Baildon Moor. I slogged up to the very top finding Green Hairstreak on every substantial patch of bilberry - and occasionally flying over the rough heath in between

        It was a very warm day and on colder ones maybe they retreat to the shelter of the bell pits. Whenever I approached a bell pit or a depression in the ground sure enough I would witness the typical Ariel combat.

        I am almost certain I can tell the difference between males and females: there is such a thing as gender specific behaviour. The males feed more than the females and pick out the bilberry flowers to nectar on. They are more active than the females seeing off rivals for examples, which must demand a considerable expenditure of energy. When they do land on a sprig of bilberry and appear to be prospecting an egg-laying site they may be looking for females

       When a female is perambulating around a plant, it never responds to a male flying overhead. If the male comes to take a further look, it descends deeper into the grass as if irritated by the attention.

        The males are also territorial returning to the same shrub of bilberry over and over again. The females do not do this and   are much more wide ranging. A Green   Hairstreak that disappears over the horizon is almost certainly a female. They are the explorers; the males are sedentary in comparison. But do freshly emerged females seek them out by heading, for instance, to the warmth of the bell pits?  I also think it possible that whenever one finds a Green Hairstreak resting on heather it is a male.  It is the females that hug the earth.

       Took footage of Dobrudden Caravan Park in the background Bingley and the clinker deposits with couples sitting on it enjoying the sunshine. Hopefully the shots give a sense of height and location.

        Returning via the bell pits I was not all that surprised to find fewer Green Hairstreaks. In my opinion it was just too hot for them.

        Need to go over the same ground on a much cooler day.                  

       Of course I could carry out an experiment and mark the butterflies according to whether they are male or female. This would mean chloroforming the butterflies so I could open the wings to check for scent scales. However there is always the risk I would hurt them.

        On the day ‘artificial life’ (in fact a misnomer) was created I became increasingly reluctant to carry out the experiment. All of life seems threatened because of it-like we can now dispense with it because we can begin to create our own life forms-life forms which will reflect the pathology of zombie capitalism - the living dead of life forms.

        On top of Baildon Moor I heard a text come through. It was from Patricia apologizing for her mind numbing, paleo-feminism.  However I am sick of this type of behavior .Her text read: “I want to run away to the hills and barricade myself from this mad human race can understand why you are immersed in un-human things. How is it going I hope the warmth of the sun has regenerated the micro colonies”.

        Because of the hurtful gratuitous nonsense of her previous text (“another thing for men to argue over”), last night I dreamt of dead women pinned like butterflies in a morgue, their wings more like the contours traced by ancient maps than the wings of butterflies, the left side the same as the right. They literally were ‘Map’ butterflies                          

        This close observation of gender specific behavior has led me to revise my views on Green Hairstreaks I filmed flitting around the lone sitka spruce on the Chevin in 2006. Almost certainly they were all males.

 

   23th May 2010: Holly Bank Bluff

      Another sweltering day. Returned to Holly Bank Bluff to check to see if it was a very late emergence. However the Green Hairstreak have been undoubtedly been killed off by the harsh winter. The vegetation is sparser than on Baildon Moor and thick tussocks of sheep fescue is nowhere to be found. The hillsides of shale are much steeper than Baildon and there is much soil creep. The grass cover is thin and when compared with that on Baildon’s gentler slope

       The Green Hairstreaks are extremely fussy egg layers and test many promising shoots for desirability. Have yet to find one egg

       Was going to check Shibden Dale for Green Hairstreaks after leaving Holly Bank but was just too tired. I took the 571 bus from Halifax to Bradford, the bus taking well over one hour. But I was amazed by some of the sights – the strangeness of some of the 19th century housing, the product of laisser aller to be sure but still much more visually interesting to look at than anything constructed in the 20th century

        Just recalled in photos of Oats Royd, the lower parts, there is a thick carpet of heat conserving sheep’s fescue. However I don’t recall there was anything like the same amount of sparse bilberry poking through the matted grass as on Baildon Moor. However some year’s back I had come to the conclusion that the Green Hairstreaks I photographed on 120 film resting on the grass were females. All this should now be collected and posted because it now possesses historic significance and ecologically is also important.

 

   24th of May 2010: Ovenden Moor              

      I fully expected the Green Hairstreaks to have gone from Ovenden but I was in for a real surprise.

      Before I hit the bridge that crosses the stream feeding Ogden Water, I noticed deep rifts I the ground (possibly man made) covered with fescue and patches of bilberry. I decided to investigate and after finding none. My suspicion that the Green Hairstreaks would have perished on Ovenden appeared confirmed - only then to see one. This led to the sighting of several more. When I examined the ground and the exposed, desiccating peat, I was at a loss to explain why the Green Hairstreaks had survived here but not on Holly Bank Bluff. I photographed patches of the moor with Holly Bank in the far distance. All I can say is that the ground on Holly Bank is considerable less exposed than on this stretch of Ovenden Moor. Yet clearly over a few intensely cold days tens of thousands perished on Holly Bank Bluff and Oats Royd.

       Given that much of Ovenden Moor is damp even waterlogged in places, then for sure the ground must have frozen to a considerable depth, almost like permafrost.

       I examined the peat for ants and found just one scurrying black ant. There were many more to be found on sandy soils composed of weathered millstone grit.

      I moved on, crossed the bridge and instead of following the beaten track continued along the shallow V shaped depression, which is generally much boggier than it was today. Within a short space of time I had spotted several Green Hairstreaks males - because once one was disturbed it usually managed to start another and the frantic dance would then ensue. I clambered all the way up the shallow depression only crossing to the well warn path once the former had petered out. I was most surprised at the large number of Common Heath moths, more in fact than I have ever seen. Some were very small indeed and could be described as a dwarf race.

      I then continued to the disused quarries fronting the wind farm. I only briefly glanced into the quarries but found the Green Hairstreaks on the flat, disturbed peaty ground above them all were in good condition and I was at a loss again to understand how they managed to survive here but not on holly bank bluff. The area was grazed by sheep. I was unaware of them until getting up I noticed four had crept up on me. Perhaps it was the sheep that was preventing the fescue from becoming properly established. Hence the disturbed nature of the ground with desiccating peat grinning through everywhere. The ground cover was worse that Holly Bank, easily worse. The whole thing is a mystery to me but, at the same time, I don’t doubt it was the extreme frosts that finished off the Green Hairstreaks on Holly Bank and Oats Royd.

      I retraced my steps following the established path this time finding as many Green Hairstreaks as I did last year. Most were in quite good condition. At the bridge I turned right and followed the path down by the side of Ogden water noting a couple of Green Hairstreaks on the way. I climbed the style into the fenced–off part at the top of Ogden Water containing lush parches of bilberry. Shaded by pines, a pleasant scene but not really Green Hairstreak territory.  So I was surprised when I did see one.

       Is peat warmer than soil? Decomposing vegetable matter generates heat so maybe it does not freeze like soil?  Could this be the explanation? Both Oats Royd and Holly Bank Bluff are composed of shale with the thinnest of soil cover.

 

          

           

           

         

          

          Above: Ovenden Moor 2010.  A Still existing big colony of Green Hairstreaks in and around the wind farm

      Went to the library to check out thermal properties of peat but found nothing. Peat however is decomposing vegetable matter and must generate more heat than rock based soils. It is looser and allows air to penetrate.

       How much does the grazing of Ovenden Moor contribute to the exposing of the sub peat: “lower limits of callunetum (i.e. heather moorland) often coincide with the upper limit of enclosed grassland - and very often callunetum adjoins and passes into the bent- fescue grassland” there is a combination of both on Ovenden Moor. Peat of typical Pennine heather moor “is as a rule so shallow that the heater roots regularly pass through it into underlying coarse, sandy soil that may be conveniently called the subpeat”.

       Is hair moss a good insulator?  It covers the ground somewhat similar to a broad stitch throw over: in other words a leafy thermal blanket, the tenderest shoots of bilberry are often to be found pushing through the hair moss, the rhizomes sending up shoots through the covering of hair moss.                

     “Soil characteristic of upland Britain is an acid one, with a greater or smaller development of peat on the surface. Such peaty soils can develop provided the ground is level and only gently sloping so that the peat can accumulate” Ovenden over large areas is certainly flat.

     Do hooves of sheep stir up the peat thus helping compost the decaying vegetable matter? By adding air pockets, it helps generate heat essential to the decay process.

 

    26th May 2010: Shibden Dale

       Though the day was overcast and rather cool, if the greenies were here some at least would be visible on the top of the bilberry. But the Green Hairstreak population in the Dale and on Bare Head Quarry does appear to have been wiped out.

      Since we last visited in 2006, the bilberry has become much shrubbier and less to the liking of Green Hairstreaks.

      This rather suggests that sites of industrial dereliction such as Shibden, Holly Bank Bluff, Oats Royd  etc are not suitable to Green Hairstreaks and in cold winters do not provide the warmth needed for the pupae to survive.

       Met a woman with a young child and two dogs, one an Alsatian on top of Bare Head Quarry. I did not take to her challenging attitude “are you looking for something”? It was not a friendly enthusiastic enquiry such as we had put to a birder further down the dale. It turned out her father in law owned bare head quarry but obviously could not prevent access but I felt they would dearly have liked to.  There is something proprietorial and unpleasant about Shibden (much better class of car than Queensbury) and nature to these residents is completely identified with ownership and property prices. (She may however have thought we were from Calderdale Council and therefore her challenging questioning of us was really more defensive than anything.)

 

                 

                          Above: A terrific old stone wall below Bare Head Quarry

                           

   27th May 2010: Ripponden

       Never thought I would retrace my steps to the site where in 1996 we first found the Green Hairstreak at a spot it had not been seen before. But here we were back again, unable to remember which bust stop to dismount at.

       More struck than ever by the old Ripponden / Rochdale railway line - the most memorable I have ever walked along. This man made cutting had caused nature to behave in unique and unusual ways and I was particularly struck by the way trees, often quite large ones, were growing from the hewn rock faces. They would have been mere saplings when the line closed.

        The Green Hairstreaks have almost certainly gone. It was odd to look at the trees- the birches, the oaks-where not long ago (though before the turn of the Millennia) we had photographed the Green Hairstreak.  These are now historic photos, the butterfly a mere memory. We will have to come back next year to see if recolonization has begun to take place. And how long will that take?

       There were a number of Speckled Woods flying around. Odd that this newcomer has survived the harsh winter unscathed. Last time we were here the nearest Speckled Wood colony was beside a railway bridge at Tadcaster.

       The bilberry was ideal, not shrubby like it has become at Shibden. There was also thicknesses of moss which would I thought have provided good cover and kept the ground warm. But do pupating larvae bury under the moss. And if so how deeply?

        Met a Calderdale Ranger with two dogs. Worked on a voluntary basis but was wearing a dirty shirt on which “Calderdale Rover” had been printed. Obviously retired he had a baseball cap on, his hair tied in a ponytail. He was angry at the way owners were blocking access and he took pleasure in breaking locks on illegal gates. He said he could get arrested for doing it but nothing was going to stop him, he felt so angry about the blocking of access and the seizure of land that should be everyone’s patrimony. It was uplifting to talk to him. He was particularly approving of a couple of “former coppers” in Calderdale Council who knew the law inside out and would instantly nail anyone who dared to block rights of way. The fetish of ownership means more land is being illegally enclosed than ever.

             

         

                           Above: Shots of the greatest ex-railway line ever …from Halifax to Rochdale

 

     27th May 2010: Ilkley Moor

       Took the Keighley flyer to Riddlesden and climbed the moor from the Keighley end. It was a bright day but with a sharp wind. Struck by the number of Small Whites we saw by the side of the Ilkley road.

      We passed the little flat roofed house of Bradup where I had once witnessed a lone piper practicing - two docile dogs, the door open, a bead curtain hanging from the frame.

      A little way further up the road we decided to take a path that led up to the fir plantation. At first we found nothing but reaching a stonewall that gave shelter we began to see the greenies Green Hairstreaks. They appeared to be hugging the stonewall which was surprisingly warm when we touched it. We soon found a mating pair, which I photographed with the Ovenden wind farm in the background. At the same time I also photographed one resting on a dry stonewall.

        We continued following the wall (called Brown Seaves on the map) to an adjoining wall which I reckoned too be very ancient because it had a layer of protruding stones at the top to repel wolves.

        By the time we got to the fir plantation (which I was pleased to see was being felled) we began to find them in abundance. We continued following the dry stonewall enclosing the fir plantation until nearly Piano Rock where we espied another mating pair this time on the opposite side of the wall. David went down to investigate the lower ground around the West Buck Stones but found nothing. A couple of years ago he had found several.

       We then continued onto the radio mast occasionally finding the odd Green Hairstreak.  We continued on past the radio masts to the heavily eroded Thimble Stones espying a couple more, despite the cutting wind.

        We cut off left wards to the trig point, occasionally finding the odd Green Hairstreak descending the path into the vicinity of the Badger Stone where we began to find a considerable number, even a mating pair by the side of the path.

       We then made a right turn following a path where I photographed another mating pair with Beamsley Beacon in the background. Skirting the perimeter of a coppice of pines we found at least eight without looking especially hard. I photographed one perching on a pine with Menwith Hill in the far distance. I recalled that beside this coppice, some years back, a copper had been abducted by aliens and probed by them in a bell pit. He had managed to take a photo of one of the aliens, which had then been digitally enhanced. It just looked like random blotches to me and in this instance seeing is believing what you want to see.

        We then continued along the top of Ilkley Craggs eventually descending into Rocky Valley, which was covered in bilberry. Looking down from above we thought surely they must be there - but much to out surprise they weren’t. Descending further past the White House, we recalled the number we had seen flapping around here in previous years and the photos I had taken of them on the gorse together with the long horn (Adela Reamurella) which incidentally also appears to have taken a massive hit.

        We returned by way of “the Masts”. As we progressed down the Ilkley Road we began to put together the bare outlines of an explanation. We came to the conclusion that it had frozen harder in the valleys than on the moor tops where the air circulated more freely. The difference in temperature explained why the Green Hairstreaks were to be found on the top but not on the bottom of the moors.

        On Ilkley Moor the lower slopes will doubtless be quickly colonized but the same cannot be said for Oats Royd, Holly Bank Bluff, Shibden Dale etc.

        I had often wondered why the two colonies known about as far back as the 19th century had never expanded, colonizing adjacent moors. Well, perhaps it required warmer winters for this to happen, the Green Hairstreaks that had made it to the lower slopes prior to this killed off by the harsh frosts. These lower altitude colonies became essential stepping-stones, allowing the whole area to eventually be colonized wherever bilberry was to be found.

        Well. It’s a thought. But it does not explain why the Green Hairstreaks aren’t in Langstrothdale.

        Need to read up about meteorology, cold pockets, etc.

 

         

         

        

       

        

      Above: 2010 and Green Hairstreaks on top of Ilkley Moor. The final two photographs show the Green Hairstreak just above Rocky Valley while in the valley itself (above right) it had become extinct

 

    30th May 2010: Otley Chevin

        Climbed to Surprise View via Caley Craggs. Last here in 1997 finding Green Hairstreaks virtually everywhere we looked.

        It was only when we descended from Surprise View I saw a fade specimen resting on an oak tree where the tree line began. Also noticed a number of long horns (adela reamurella) the first I had seen this year.

       Descended still further to the big field where we saw a further three - right at the bottom.  Two were dished, the other in reasonable nick

       But why have they survived here and not on Hollybank Oats Royd or Shibden?  However they have taken a hit and are only just to say hanging on.

       The path skirting the bottom of the big field had been widened and banked at either side with boards running the length of the path. This must have been to facilitate access and I noticed signs referring to wheel chair   users had increased, as had the number of wretchedly bad woodcarvings at intervals along the more used paths

       We then went onto West Chevin to Brow Ghyll where we failed to find one Green Hairstreak.

        We saw probably five Speckled Woods - two at the top of the bank side leading to Surprise View. We could never have expected to see them in 1997 when we last made this excursion from Caley Cragg.

      The Speckled Wood hibernates either as larvae or pupa. The Speckled Wood is a creature that is adapting to different, most unpropitious habitats. They can be found flitting in the treeless wastes of rows of town houses like in Bradford 3. The fact that they are the most shade tolerant of all British butterflies may enable them to flourish in more open and colder spots. Thus they have not been set back in the slightest by the coldest winter   for 30 years.

 

     3rd June 2010: Baildon Moor

        Saw one solitary Green Hairstreak up near Dobrudden Farm. In fact it was in quite good condition-possibly a female to judge by its behaviour. It appeared not to be patrolling any territory and flew off down the hillside where it was lost to view.

        Climbed up to the top of Baildon Moor. Though there are clumps of heather at the very top there is no bilberry. This begins a few feet from the summit. Saw around 8 Small Heaths and (I think) a Wall.

       And to think before I came up I had visions of marking the butterflies to better distinguish male from female behaviour (even buying tubes of acrylic paint). I also intended spending a night with a mating pair on Baildon Moor. But after the shock of finding them absent from many of the customary sites, it was deemed essential we visit as many sites as possible to determine numbers. And so the best laid plans-----

        I was miffed at not being able to study egg-laying habits and examine eggs under microscopes and filming them when the tiny larvae hatch.

        In Bradford Exchange I was cheered by a typical Bradford eccentric kicking off over security allegedly pushing women around. On this very hot day he was wearing woolen gloves. On his dirty pullover he had written No Freedom. It’s a Fascist Country. He was well into his 60s.

 

    4th June 2010: Ilkley Moor

       Retraced my steps of May 27th but this time from Ilkley. It was a very hot day, cloudless to begin with. By 14.30 it began to cloud in and remained pretty much over cast throughout the afternoon. I saw my first Green Hairstreak on Ilkley Craggs. I succeeded in getting a close look at a dished specimen on the rim of the top moor. I observed it for a while taking it to be a female hoping against hope it would deposit an egg. But then with its last remaining breath it flew up to scrap with a passing male.

        I was to see a further eight and I would reckon all were males, as they would attack passing Common Heath moths that strayed on to their territories. I presume the females were on the sparse shoots of bilberry and were close to expiring like the males but still continuing to lay eggs. If only I could familiarize myself with their life histories. But this is proving to be a devil of a job.

        There were now very few bilberry flowers and the few Green Hairstreaks that were left were flying on empty. I took a photo of a very battered specimen over the wall from Piano Rock

        The Common Heath was at the height of its emergence. I did wonder if they nectared on last years faded heather flowers. I also noticed tattered Green Hairstreaks resting on the withered heather flowers.

        Briefly sitting down by the side of the wall at Piano Rock, I began to examine a large rock noticing the scouring properties of the schist through which minute sprigs of heather were sprouting and a few sparse grass leaves.

        This must mark the early stage of the rocks becoming covered in vegetation. I noticed how after the first pioneer plants, moss would take over and the bilberry would send its ‘rhizomes’ beneath the moss from which would sprout the thin reddish, shoots of bilberry which I had noticed the Green Hairstreak show a fondness for. However so far I have been unable to find a single hairstreak egg. I had noticed also how adapted the ab: punctata forms appeared to be to this particular background and how the two arcs of yellowish spots broke up the form of the wings, helping the butterfly meld with the star-like mosaic of the hair moss. But this may be pushing things somewhat. Is the ab: punctata a sex linked variation?  

        As I moved off across the moor every time I detected a covering of hair moss with thin shoots of bilberry poking through, I would test to see if beneath it there was a rock. And sure enough beneath everyone I tested there was a rock.

       The heat retentive capacity of mill stone grit is well known. Perhaps the Green Hairstreaks that wriggled beneath the hair moss to pupate were kept warm by the rock’s thermal properties. Perhaps this explains why they survived on the Chevin but not on the shales of Holllybank Bluff and Oats Royd.

        Searching for scientific illumination and finding none, I turned to look at Piano Rock; aware that no one knew for certain if the allegedly cup and ring markings had been carved into the rock or were simply the effect of weathering.

        And so I noticed how fine gravel-schist had collected in little depressions in the rock which had been deepened by the scouring gravel, eventually allowing plants to take root. Could it be that the Neolithic peoples who once inhabited Ilkley Moor had seen in these scouring vortexes a symbol of life, a vivid demonstration of how the ‘inanimate’ produces life. When they carved their cup and ring symbols were they not speeding up the process of erosion, which they identified with the origin of life?  The wind as a procreative power and the sexual act a more concentrated form of wind power?

       

       

          Above: Do the above photographs help illustrate the theory?

 

***************

          We asked various branches of Butterfly Conservation if they had noticed a decline in Green Hairstreak numbers. The following is a selection from the replies we received, all contradicting our findings……..

 

      North East England:

“My impression is that the Green Hairstreaks have not a bad season here. There have certainly been some reports of decent counts although I have also heard from people who have visited good sites and found very few-biased by a variation in observe pressure.”

     Glasgow, South West Scotland:

“Appears the Green Hairstreaks have had quite good year from sites where they haven’t been seen for a few years and a number of new sites discovered.”

     Wales:

“I’ve had no other reports from Welsh records of population on lower ground from fairing differently from upland population.”

     Cumbria:

“Our low level colonies of the Green Hairstreak have done every well this year, in fact the transect figures on Methop Moss are record breaking.”

     East Scotland:

“Early indications are that the Green Hairstreak has had a pretty good year here. Pre- existing colonies have been confirmed and a number of new colonies have been uncovered both in upland and lowland areas.  Numbers seem to be very well up.

     Lancashire

“Best year for Green Hairstreak on Warton Cragg since 1995 (total number seen in low forties) Surprised how many we found on Winter Hill in relatively poor weather compared to numbers seen on Werneth Low the next day in bright sunshine.” “A good number of Green Hairstreaks feeding on bilberry on the Walker Fold area of Burnt Edge.”

    Scottish Highlands:

“Usual number of sightings of Green Hairstreak”

     

Stuart & David Wise: January 2011

 

And we await the spring of 2011 with some trepidation??????