UNORTHODOX BUTTERFLY NOTEBOOKS NO 13: JULY 2006 – AUGUST 2007

 

28th July 2006: Scar Close Limestone Pavement. The Pennines, North Yorks

By chance a meeting with Dr Terry Whitaker.

But first the train to Settle where we then taken by bus to Ribblehead Station.The track is being firmed up and re-laid from Settle to Carlisle. There was a First train company greeter at Settle whom we thought may be Dan Cruickshank doing voluntary work on behalf of the "Friends of the Settle/Carlisle Railway". A 'toff' fallen on hard times, he had a pleasant welcoming way with him.

All day the Dark Green Fritillaries never rested continuing their agitated flight right up until 18.00 hours in the evening so I was unable to get the film footage and photographs with the mountain of Ingleborough in the background I so badly wanted. Towards evening, the Dark Green Fritillaries slow their mad flight and frequently spend time nectaring replenishing their energy. These did not behave as per expected though from 16.45 hours onwards there was a slight increase in the numbers actually nectaring. Did those or others arise early and nectar as the sun came up? What is for sure the abnormal heat this July must have altered their usual behaviour. And did the fritillaries after 18 00 hours suddenly disappear taking up roosting positions for the night? Their behaviour around 18 00 hours in the evening was not markedly different from that of 14 00 hours in the afternoon but this was also true of other butterflies on Scar Close.

 

30th July 2006: Healey Mills Marshalling Yards and the Grayling.

I was delighted to find the Grayling on Storrs Hill. I had come to the sad conclusion that they had disappeared from here but David found one in an excavated hollow just below the humming pylon which continuously makes a noise like the buzzing of winged insects and where we once found the majority of the Common Blues in that part of West Yorkshire back in 1954. These little hollows are hotter than the surrounding terrain and despite the infernal heat are still favoured by the Grayling. They are also are attracted to the fading thistles rather than the banks of knapweed on one of the slopes on Storrs Hill.

But in the marshalling yards the Grayling has taken a hit and I would estimate it is only a sixth of what it was three years ago. The carr woodland is not as yet damaging the survival of the insect and it may be the case when rows of wagons were parked there, the spot was more appealing to the Grayling than it is now with the encroaching covering of birch carr woodland traditionally favoured by the Grayling.

As the yards here became more 'natural' the insect may be reverting to its more usual behaviour. Thus it is alighting less on industrial detritus and choosing the hardcore to alight on rather than sleepers or railway lines. The point levers are becoming shaded in woodland making them less appealing to the Grayling as perches but still, the butterflies are not using the silver birch and generally favour the hardcore from which it will start up to check out any other sizeable insect flying overhead.

We did not find one Grayling on the elevated path that runs through the yards. Normally we see quite a number. However, we did see one on the path that runs alongside the up-line from Horbury Green on towards Dewsbury and Huddersfield. It was a relief to find the butterfly on the pathway. Hopefully the colony will eventually recover its former strength as two cold springs have taken their toll. The 'improvements' carried out in the yards and the increased amounts of hardcore in the area may eventually suit the Grayling once grass starts to poke through though this will take some time.

 

3rd August, 2006: Sheffield & Tinsley Marshalling Yards

No Grayling at Tinsley Marshalling Yards that's for certain. And the difficulties of getting into the yards have increased. Is there no end to the fencing in of industry, of unspoilt, natural brownfield habitats? And how convenient for conservationists: nature can thus be said not to exist on brownfield sites. Walked the distance between Tinsley to Rotherham. Incredibly under the MI viaduct we saw two White Letter Hairstreaks one pursuing the other. Between Tinsley and Rotherham running alongside the canal is a strip of land on which, not long ago, factories stood. It is now bare, concreted or tarmaced earth ideal for industrial butterflies. However we found little evidence of trefoil though the place is carpeted with buddleia. The great thing about the place is that it stinks so there is little chance of a housing estate being built on it. The sewerage beds are the great saviour here as they are at Skelton Grange in Leeds.

Walking to Rotherham we took a detour across a field. It belonged to a small holder. Finding our way blocked by nettles we retraced our steps. To my horror I saw in front of me a ferocious alsatian tearing across the field and I was completely at its mercy. The small holder told me to stand still and came up to talk to us rather than admonish us. It was just so typically South Yorkshire. I rather suspect he had been an industrial worker himself probably employed in the steel mills and a social/industrial attitude had stayed with him rather than developing proprietal, hostile attitudes more typical of farmers.

On the bus back from Rotherham, an overweight girl – a very overweight girl – began to talk to us. She had facial hair but an engaging way with her. She couldn't bear to be alone and ardently wished she was a twin. Apparently she spends her time travelling around on Sheffield buses as she possesses a disability pass. She could have done the distance between Rotherham and Sheffield in ten minutes. But here she was taking the scenic route via Dinnington which takes one and a half hours. But in that one and a half hours she was not alone.....

 

5th August 2006: Dowley Gap Walk on the Leeds/Liverpool Canal from Shipley, Bradford West Yorks

No White Letter Hairstreaks and few Purple Hairstreaks. However, we did find Comma caterpillars feeding on elm. I got film of three stages. The early stages look remarkably like bird droppings.

The real interest of the day was in the conversations with our fellow walkers. Ian, an older guy possibly in his early eighties, could remember the day when meetings of the Bradford Naturalists were packed to overflowing now they are down to about four. Others also had great stories to tell but most will go untold like the eighty plus in a home who has been repeatedly encouraged to commit his stories to paper but obstinately refused to do so ... well why? The answer....... Because no one will ever be interested!

Ian has his stories to tell too like the movie photographer who lived on Spurn Point at the mouth of the Humber in a caravan. When eventually the caravan was moved it fell apart. The photographer was very frugal, always dressed in the same clothes and wearing a beret. Rather than eating an entire boiled egg he would cut it in half and keep the rest until later. He was also parsimonious with his film and little was ever wasted. He would also help people to construct hides from pallets etc on Spurn Point.

 

6th August 2006:

A Marbled Beauty, (c. diomestica) on Barbara's window pane just off the Leeds road in Bradford, West Yorks.

Feeds on lichens. Melanic forms occur in industrial districts. Elsewhere the moth is white with marked forms and this is most frequently found in chalk and limestone districts.

 

7th August 2006: Arnside Knott Cumbria on Morecambe Bay

 Well we returned back to Bradford with about fourteen Grayling butterflies in jam jars and we both felt better for it. I now don't feel so cornered as regards to Healey Mills. There is a chance the butterflies may make it at Stourton, Leeds, and if it does there is a large area in which to expand including big railway sidings. If it fails then that is also an object lesson and makes Healey Mills Marshalling Yards all the more remarkable.

The form in Healey Mills is darker than that in Morecambe Bay which means the Grayling must have come from an area with a clay base and maybe millstone grit outcrops. Could it have come from County Durham, Teeside or Northumberland?

On Arnside Knott the Scotch Argus was past its best and most had frayed wings. They have an extraordinary propensity for feeding on a bloom like ragwort and can easily stay there for 10 minutes. The same can not be said for the individual florets of thyme close to the ground where the Scotch Argus never tarry for long. They do like Coppice Woodland once the marran grass has covered it and there is a rich supply of nectar. I was rather surprised at the length of time a Grayling also stayed nectaring on the ragwort. They certainly do not do this in Healey Mills Marshalling Yards and are altogether nervier.

I was able to get panoramic shots of Scotch Argus with the lakes and mountains and the broad inlet of the River Kent far below in the background. On two occasions a train is to be seen in the far distant background, about to cross a railway bridge that runs across the River Kent. The eye is more flexible than the lens and I would have liked to have photographed what I saw through my eyes. However I would have needed a very firm flexible support to do that and the optical stabilizer is not good enough for hand holding it. Sometimes I was lying stretched out on the ground with the side of my head lying on the ground like I was almost seeing things upside down. It was like I had entered another world or penetrated through this one like the doors of perception had been flung open. It brought a profound sense of relief with it like the pain had gone from body and soul and I had become new.

The Scotch Argus has benefited from the coppicing since we were at the Knott ten years previously for it likes coppiced areas preferring them to exposed hillsides like on the top of the Knott. Maybe here they have a partial explanation for its disappearance from Grass Wood in the Village of Grassington in North Yorks. Had the wood continued to be worked and kept for game, the butterfly may have remained.

 

8th August 2006: Stourton and Skelton Grange Power Station and Rothwell Country Park

 Released Grayling and well may they thrive. They instantly disappeared as though lost heading into the most unlikely spots like down the thickly grassed areas on the banks of the River Aire.

Almost instantly I found a Brown Argus and then another and possible a third. They were flying as usual side by side with the Common Blue, in fact I have never seen them NOT flying side by side with the Common Blue almost as if there was a symbiotic relationship between the two which is obviously absurd. But what sort of relationship could it possibly be? The thought has passed through my mind that the Brown Argus switched from feeding on wild geranium to birds foot trefoil, the plant that the Common Blue feeds on.

A little later having crossed the railway lines onto what is left of the bare spoil of Rothwell Country Park where Rothwell Colliery once stood we found another Brown Argus. Last year I predicted this was the spot most likely to appeal to the Brown Argus because of the large amount of meadows cranesbill and so. I have been proved right. However, I have never seen the insect on the meadow cranesbill or anywhere near it for that matter. I also suspect that it is following the Aire and Calder Rivers just as did the Ringlet ... why? Because on the bank sides one can most expect to the find the meadow cranesbill but I need more evidence.

Who would have thought four years ago that I would be tracking the Brown Argus as it came into West Yorkshire?

What we have experienced in the last 10 years is unique, not even a chance of a lifetime but once every 6000 years and maybe a little longer. We met a former miner on the bridge of the Aire leading from Skelton Grange to Rothwell. He was on a push bike and as I had a camera around my neck his first words were "Seen out"? Even before he said he was a miner, I had guessed it from his observation of landfill site up towards Woodlesford. He knew everyone that passed by and one could only be envious of that sense of community. He was somewhat apologetic of having a car saying he needed one when on shift work, now he endeavours to cycle wherever possible.

He knew a considerable amount about coal mining and how the manager's profit from the sale of machinery and, before privatisation, in the sale of legally mined coal hued with the connivance of imported Irish labour. He thought it unlikely the coal fields would ever be opened up once more but then he underestimated the scale of the energy crisis! He did say the seams around Malton on the Scarborough road were 30ft thick which ran out under the North Sea. He did think the coal shafts would have been an ideal place to get rid of nuclear waste and the ground water in the deepest pits would never have bubbled up to the surface.

He was very aware that humanity was facing a disaster and was worried sick for the future of his grandchildren and he was also very conscious that it is almost impossible to talk to teenagers. In particularly he was angry with 'off-road' bikers and took great pleasure in informing on them taking their number plates and letting the park rangers know. He would have loved to have personally crushed the bikes, and once when a quad bike was racing around the flats he was minded to take an aim with a shotgun. He loved nature and pointed to an old spoil heap saying how he used to love sitting on the grass there secluded from the rest of the world watching the rabbits and pheasants. Like a typical miner he could not stop talking and the conversations we had with him lasted well over an hour. This face to face communication where everything is discussed is what is so lacking today.

 

10th August 2006: A visit to Denso Marston Nature Reserve along the banks of the River Aire, Shipley, West Yorks.

Saw several Common Blues and there was much cranesbill, a perfect setting for the Brown Argus although nothing seemed to be there.

So today we visited Kirkstall Abbey on the banks of the Aire at Leeds and from there walked all the way back to Bradford. I recall I did the same walk about four years ago looking for the Ringlet. How the memories came flooding back of the pack horse bridge at Rodley which marked the western limit of the Kirkstall Abbey Trail. To the other side there is a forbidden stretch of territory which once may have been a station, Rodley station perhaps. Certainly there is a pub of that name nearby. Here we have found a small colony of Ringlets. Today we were looking for the Brown Argus, however it was a dull rather stormy day quite cool so little was flying, but a place I must go back to.

In the meantime, someone had constructed the foundations of a wooden den, and quite a neat den it was too. Maybe it had been done by the occupant of a strange boat which we were later to pass by near Applerly Bridge. There was something very appealing about it, like a rusting boat in a back garden under an apple tree, a sort of conscious tsunami salvage vessel. Since we were last here there has been much building of the usual crap, that is county styling looking sustainable or rather county styling looking sustainable but in fact isn't.

 

9th May 2007: Bradshaw, Bradford, West Yorks

My day entries from now on are likely to be fewer as I am losing interest in butterflies because it is becoming a disheartening task. It is now more than evident that we are not pushing at open door, but one which has been slammed in our face, never to be opened.

We journeyed from Halifax to Bradshaw and walked up the slope where we had detected former mine workers, bell pits, spoil heaps and the like. The whole place 150 years ago must have been riddled with bell pits and drift mines. We did find bilberry and no doubt there would have been Green Hairstreaks here but as the day was overcast we did not see any.

Later on we walked along the road from Bradshaw to Mountain passing the Raggle Inn. We took a detour to the left where a radio mast stood. Formerly is must have been a quarry and it had been used for landfill, building rubble and the like. At the edge we found a strip of heather and bilberry and as the sun had started to push from behind the clouds here we did see a couple of Green Hairstreaks.

What are even more surprising were the open cast workings at the bottom near Denholme. A deep mine pit must have once stood here and I was reminded about what Betty said about the pits which were to be found along Thornton Road. Once the coal has been removed I think it likely the flat land will become an industrial estate linking up with the Holmefield Industrial Estate perhaps at the bottom of Hollybank Bluff separating Halifax from Queensbury.

 

10th May 2007: Dodworth and Penistone, South Yorkshire

The feeder road has now been completed.... the road that smashed right through the main Dingy Skipper colony. There were however, still a number of Dingy Skippers to be found around the culvert to the side of the road, but the new tree planting will eventually shade them out and that will be the end. How very eco-looking and how very ruinous the landscape has become. On the top of Dodworth spoil heap we did see one Dingy Skipper but there were always few up here because of the exposed situation. The top is still used by bikers and dirt riders and last year there must have been a considerable fire which has 'coppiced' the wooded side of the spoil heap. Had it then been seeded with trefoil the Dingy Skipper would have been there for certain.

Leaving this scene of destruction we went onto Penistone. Here the Dingy Skipper is doing quite well so far. The tree cutting of the willow and the silver birch has actually benefited the butterfly. However, none of this has been planned to save the butterfly it just so happens that is was the right thing to do but for the wrong reasons.

Some of the detritus has been cleaned up, the oil drums; the smashed TV sets have gone. When filming in the yard I cut my knee on a broken bottle and blood started to spout out but across the yard there was this guy who emerged from the oil drums and all the muck and the mess to see if I was ok; then he left to get me a bandage. I respected his considerate behaviour and thought how different this response was to the horrible couple from Shibdon Dale a few years earlier who could not distinguish between hooligans and conservationists; lumping them together. This bearded filthy looking character with a briar pipe could have been a character out of a Herman Melville story. We called in "Jim" in honour of our friend Jim Welby who was killed on the road fairly recently in Ashford, Kent. This guy, at Penistone, hated fuckheads but could also visibly see that we were not one of them. In the space of a year all of the glass had been smashed in the factory building near Penistone Station. 'Jim' reckoned that the smashed bottle, where I had cut my knee, had been left by the kids who like to party in the abandoned goods yards. The wall on which the graffiti had been sprayed had been totally vandalised by them.

We talked about the closure of the Woodhead line which went through Penistone Station while I nursed my leg. 'Jim' hated lorries and he may have well had some connection with the railways in the past. The idea of a railway created a powerful cross-class allegiance. 'Jim' said the Edendale line was chock-a-block and there was talk of re-opening the Woodhead line. The former tunnels under the Woodhead line had evidently recently been re-lined with concrete. The roads were certainly filling up – there is your reason for the feeder road we have just been talking about at Dodworth so it is possible the plan the lay a road where the railway line once was is now being reconsidered.

'Jim' expressed an interest in what we were doing; he was very companionable and was a typical West Yorks type. A type that Blaire and Thatcher hated and were determined to destroy at all costs.

A little later we came back and when filming a Dingy Skipper on a grass stalk, apparently the door to the sani-loo across the yards was opened and Jim could be found squatting in the chemical toilet looking attentively at what we were doing. Had I have known, I could have got a shot of the roosting Dingy Skipper and 'Jim' on the toilet for this is the reality of the Dingy Skipper, not the aesthetic sanitised view the conservation groups have and pedal. After wiping his arse, 'Jim' came across the yard to talk to us again and was pleased this time to be able to see a Dingy Skipper roosting in the late afternoon sunshine.

 

11th May 2007: Frickley Colliery' West Yorks near Doncaster

The dumper trucks are already at work here and as ever their sound is the background accompaniment to the Dingy Skipper butterfly. Meanwhile a little colony we first discovered three or four years ago is actually thriving quite well. The grass and with it the birds foot trefoil is spreading, increasing the capacity of the site.

Prior to arriving at the spot we got talking to a 'birder', an enthusiast. He was easy to talk to. He was excited at seeing a buzzard at Frickley only recently. He then recalled how he had first seen a buzzard at Trowbridge when away playing the local football team. A pair of them was to be found just by the side of the ground feeding on worms. As he said he was interested in 'birds more than football'. The Frickley site speaks for itself. For the moment the spot where the Dingies were first found has been left but for how long? Or has it been deliberately left?

Finally it rained very hard and our shoes became covered in the cloggy soil but we continued and I got invaluable footage of the Westfield area which later is to be introduced in the Frickley film on the Dingy Skipper.

 

14th May 2007: Woolley Colliery, West Yorks

Photographed the waterfall. It was a cool and cloudy day with sunny spells in the afternoon. Close to the 'fountain' waterfall saw a Dingy Skipper behave almost like a moth tumbling down deep into the grass. I have formally come to the conclusion that they roost on dead knapweed heads and plantain etc but given the persistent of the downpour of the last few days they may have sought shelter deep within the grass.

The Dingies will live on at Woolley for we found another colony over the railway line and on the bank side of the pit ponds. Here there was another striking fountain. A veritable real life R-Mutt fountain; beautiful in its artlessness.

Talked to a building worker who knew we were naturalists mentioning he had seen a pair of buzzards and even settled on the railways around nearby. Took photos of a Dingy Skipper with a pneumatic drill in the background. Because of its ostentation the building worker seemed rather proud of the Woolley Grange Estate – which is rather disillusioning! One of the photos of a Dingy has the M1 in the background. Coming back we were stopped by a couple of residents from old Woolley pit terraces. They must have seen us photographing in the morning and word had got around. This though was casual verite and I was reluctant to set the camera up properly just making sure the recording button was on. It was a good encounter and cheered both of us up.

 

15th May 2007: Rother Valley County Park, South Yorks

An excellent park all told. Well shaped and nicely variegated. But where are the butterflies? They all seem to congregate in one spot. What drew them there and why is it so favourable? This is where the entrance is from the flat plateaux of the former Waleswood Colliery. Here the Dingies fly with the Common Blue, the Brown Argus and the Small Heath. Why are they not present in the rest of the Country Park and it is a huge park. Particularly the Dingy Skipper although the conditions throughout the Park are ideal. Has the Dingy just arrived we wondered?

The place where they thrive and its small area is a bit of a sun spot protected on three sides. However there is a covering of rust to the grass or seems like rust which the Blues and Brown Argus like to roost on and presumably the Dingy Skipper. Is this the secret? It seems hard to believe however it is harder still to second guess nature. Far away on the other side of the Rother Valley Country Park is the Marina. It is separated by the River Rother from the rest of the park. The ambience is remarkably different in this section of the park. The Brown Argus must be feeding on the cut leaf cranesbill as there is no dovesfoot cranesbill hereabouts. However outside of the park on the Sheffield Road on the roadside verge I saw the plant.

 

16th May 2007: Dinnington Colliery Spoil Heap

Photographed around Dinnington. The area around the printing firm that make over is not that bad. It is possible our pamphlets have had an input causing the landscape designers to modify their unsupportable previous approach as so they have seeded the surrounds with wild flowers but unfortunately not with birds foot trefoil.

 

17th May 2007: Kiveton Spoilheap

It took time to realise there had been a makeover of the makeover. We felt somewhat taken aback by the amount of trefoil we began to espy. However, it was invariably the continental birds foot trefoil and it was mixed with broad leaf clover that could have been genetically modified with spoil heaps in mind. Certainly the mixture of clover and remember it is not the trefoil that the Dingy prefers but rather the greater birds foot trefoil and does not suit the Dingy but these two, the clover and the trefoil mixed together.

There had also in the meantime, been a wild seeding and here and there were individual ragged robin plants. Temporarily we began to think how our conclusions were OTT. However, we still stand by our initial prediction that if there are any surviving Dingy Skippers here, they will be a mere handful, a patch of their former relative abundance and it will be a stressed population and vulnerable to the slightest mishap. The Common Blues most likely will return but in nothing like their former numbers, perhaps 8-10% of what they were.

We visited the scrape and noted even after the torrential persistent downpours of the last few days that the water level could only be at its deepest part 2½ ft deep. One hot month and it would dry out most likely. The angling ponds that are part of the make over are now rented off by British Waterways. These ponds have now been called Kiveton Water. However, even the fishing ponds it seems are a disaster and not deep enough. The fish that are in them are stressed and stressed fish will not take the anglers bait. The ponds are not oxygenated sufficiently and the fish do not survive.

The whole thing is inexcusable like the Vietnam villages that were destroyed by the US army in order to "save them". Nature on Kiveton Park spoil heap has also been destroyed to save it. Where the trefoil is flowering best the Dingy Skipper could rarely be found there in the past - so it is extremely unlikely to be there now.

 

18th May 2007: Dinnington Colliery Spoil Heap Makeover, South Yorks

We were temporarily disturbed by the fact the makeover was better than we had originally thought but even so it is still a disaster. There has been wild seeding on the top of the spoil heap, clover, trefoil, ragged robin and cut leaf cranesbill.

But even so it is inappropriate. The Common Blue may colonise the site eventually but the Dingy Skipper never. But I would not put it past Yorkshire Forward introducing the butterfly just to fault our analysis. The only place the introduction is likely to succeed is around a ditch of modified spoil where there is a modicum of tree cover, hawthorn shrubs, small oaks etc and sparse vegetation. There are more trefoil plants here on this nutrient poor base.

A good part of this makeover is owned by the Forestry Commission or at least managed by the Forestry Commission. The verges of the road from the new hospice past the bird scrapes have been planted with willow, a fast growing tree which it must be hoped will screen the scrape from the road. The road is not yet in use so how much traffic they will eventually be on it is anyone's guess. Would the noise be sufficient to scare of the little ringed plover?

The greater birds foot trefoil has been planted in profusion, however as we have stated before the Dingy Skipper does not like this particular species of trefoil, it prefers the dwarf variety, our indigenous variety which clings close to the earth and is less buffeted by the wind. The Dingy Skipper likes to remain quite close to the ground when resting or nectaring although it will roost on dead knapweed heads, plantain and the occasional florets of grass. No one has properly examined the butterfly's need for bare earth. Is it more than just a sun lounge for the butterfly? Maybe it even plays the role of egg incubator!

On the old spoil heap the butterfly has probably gone from the lowest slopes despite the best efforts of the boy racers to preserve it with their quad bikes. In fact it has to be said the dirt trackers have done more to have the butterfly than Rotherham Council or bio-diversity group.

On the top of the old spoil heap the Dingy was to be found in its usual numbers. However, it is a stressed population and the slightest mishap could prove fatal. It is ironic to think that the trefoil might have been planted to form a corridor from the old spoil heap. Despite the lip service it has completely ineffectual.

All in all, our prognosis is not incorrect and our basic thesis still stands.

 

21st May 2007: Ovenden Moor, West Yorks on the fringes of Halifax and Bradford, West Yorks

Took the bus to Bradshaw and walked up the path ascending above Ogden Reservoir. My how this landscape was worked! Surely it had to be the biggest industrial site in the world in the mid 1850's and slowly so slowly man and nature took it back and so different from today's indecent haste to do in a month, in a matter of months, which formerly took a century. The latter is like getting rid of the evidence; a rapid exorcising of memory.

I saw my first Green Hairstreak on the stream well above Ogden Reservoir. Though the day was cloudy the intermittent hazy sun was sufficient enough to bring the insects up. I was surprised to find how close they were to the wind farm and I managed to secure some shots with the turbines as background. There was also an abundance of the Common Heath Moth with a significant number of the white marbled variety which formerly I had taken to be a lowland species. The punctata form of the Green Hairstreak seemed to be more common than any of the other Green Hairstreak varieties though this was only an impression.

I cursed the traffic coming back and this used to be a road most frequented by buses to Keighley. The service ends at Illingworth but which is only a short walk from Bradshaw.

 

23rd May 2007: Hollybank Bluff between Queensbury and Halifax, West Yorks

All of the Green Hairstreaks I saw were dished. Down by the factories at the base of the bluff there were none. I think I may have found a rule of thumb method to determine whether the Green Hairstreak is a male or female. The female doesn't perch. One disturbed in perching was a male and was chased rapidly descending into the grass; the male equalling rapidly giving up the chase.

As the season wears on I think it becomes progressively easier to distinguish male from female. I believe their behaviour may alter over time and after mating the females behave less like males and make a point of keeping out of their way. I observed a male perching on some broom. Remarkably it kept returning to the same flower time after time. Characteristically it would warm one side of its body and then turn over like under a sun lamp. How are the butterfly's legs jointed? Can they fall over enabling the butterfly to grip on to the underside of leaves? The legs are noticeable spiked or in some kind of grip when perched on a leaf.

 

25th May 2007: A Room in Bradford, West Yorks

Continued with filming the anatomical parts of the Green Hairstreak butterflies. One of the Green Hairstreaks turned out to be a female. In its final moment of its life it turned its wings back over its body revealing the unmistakable scent scales and yet before this I was convinced it was a male. And now I think that when these butterflies emerge it is difficult to distinguish between male and female. Both sexes are beginning to act like the male. It is difficult therefore to distinguish between nuptial flights and territorial behaviour. After mating the females roam far more than the males do, tending to stay clear at all possible from the males to concentrate on the business of egg laying.

After the females have finished egg laying they revert to their 'male' behaviour towards the end of their lives. I photographed the death shudders of the female. It was impossible not to be moved by the death of these beautiful lustrous black eyes fringed with white.

Looking closer the eggs revelled they were spiked enabling the butterfly to keep a tight grip on its food plant and be blown away by the wind. I also noticed how the eyes began to collect microscopic particles of dust. I wonder do these spikes also function as wind screen wipers clearing the compound eyes of muck likely to obstruct the butterfly's vision. The specks of dirt collected on the eye once the butterfly is too feeble to remove them. I noticed it started to protract its proboscis dipping the end amongst the body fur. I began to wonder if this body hair collected pollen and if the butterfly was seeking to extract it.

However I think it more likely it was a reflex action. The dying butterfly wanted to feed but couldn't because it could barely unrolling its proboscis 'knowing' it needed sustenance to stave off imminent death. I could see the feeding tube encasing the proboscis and no nectar seemed to be passing through it. The palpi covering the mouth parts would move every time the Green Hairstreak stuck its tongue out. I could only get the footage because the butterfly was close to death. Had the sun fallen on a newly emerged butterfly it would have flown instantly making it impossible for me to focus on it. The bright sunlight in this room gave me the depth of field that I needed. When the sun went in the image became unfocused returning to a sharp focus as soon as the sun came out once more. I could have, of course, get macro close ups of a newly emerged insects on an overcast day. However I could never get the depth of field I need. Still I must endeavour to get footage of newly emerged insects next year.

 

26th May 2007: Ovenden Moor, West Yorks

A cool cloudy day, still I found three Green Hairstreaks resting on the billberry. I had taken a pair of gloves with me. These Green Hairstreaks I judged to be old needing what little sun there was to re-energise them. Those with life left in them crept up the bottom of plants to conserve their energy derived from nectar. They still intended to fly and they would rather than stay until life drained from them. A golfer told me to 'fuck off' on a Halifax golf course. All I wish to do with golf courses is to pour herbicide on them and tear them up with a JCB as is already happening. It was a relief to walk away from this place and loose myself on the moors. I am starting to hate all country cottages and country people. Also they are anything but nature friendly.

Got some close up in the wild of the Green Hairstreak which I was pleased with. Nobody has ever done this before or tried to! I managed to get the insect together with a distant view of Leeds zooming into a close up of the Green Hairstreak on billberry.

 

12th June 2007: Canvey Island, The Occidental Site, England's Rain Forest, South Essex

This has to be the most inspiring industrial derelict site I have ever wandered through. I alternatively exclaimed and became silent like I had been lifted out of myself and lost for words. With its mosaic of habitats, some dry other wet, saline and fresh water, it is awesome. Chunks of concrete lay abandoned, meaningless stumps and lumps of concrete whose actual function we could only guess that. Others - precast sections - left piled high like a miniature main temple or brutalist constructions that was never completed and whose function remained a mystery. Its purpose or how it ever came to be there lost in time and behind it all, the backdrop of oil refineries and the gas flame that burned perpetually, a mysterious other Olympics marking England's rain forest.

The site reminded me of my childhood on Aycliffe Trading Estate in County Durham. The grid patterns of the tracks that had been laid down for the Occidental site, the street lighting now abandoned, the concrete rise stretching into the distance, the concrete cross roads industrial rather than natural paths, three light standards rising from the thick hedge row, useless, pointless, but beautiful. Even the fly tipping was exceptional. A leather chair with a pair of odd shoes left on the cushion as if waiting for someone to put them on. The rusty curving lamp standards, some snapped off, the cabling exposed and clipped.

And then the acres of charlock or mustard or rape seed oil. And this was on the decontaminated soil required by EEC law. Now the charlock etc was pulled up or slashed after a recent article in the Southend Echo emphasised this. So probably the action was carried out by Natural England who now claimed they had intended to do this all along to put people like ourselves on the back foot, this face saving retrospective weeding such as almost certainly was carried out on the Kiveton Park spoil heap in South Yorkshire.

The sea broom breaking through the old tarmac base of the oil depot that was abandoned, the caterpillar tracks on the surplus of the tar macadam like the ripples left in sandstone testimony to a sea or river estuary from millions of years ago. Or the sea broom amidst the broken concrete and rusting iron spikes, concrete grikes; an industrial imitation of limestone pavement as in Gait Barrows in Morecombe Bay and even more wildlife rich. (This was written whilst watching the film through an LCD screen on the camcorder). The occidental site in Canvey was like an artless sculpture park rich in strange forms and like dead trees, animals and plants left to rot down. A change, a rust change, a metamorphous of rust and decay an encrypted landscape of dereliction of concrete hieroglyphs whose original purpose escapes us like after a riot. Three curved street lights spring from a hedge row, there is no road just a grassed over area in the middle of which is growing a tree size shrub of sea broom.

Up the new road with the street lights seeming to illumine nature rather than a busy road, there is a modern cemetery. Incongruity is the essence of this site. The concrete bridges across the dyke like metal railings rusting away others twisted and mangled like in a war zone, virtual shells exposed industrial installations for it is an industrial devastated landscape, the aftermath of a war 40 years later and now returned to nature and for nature. This is the landscape of a non-destructive war, a necessarily peaceful war in which destruction is left to find its own way.

It adds to nature it does not detract from it like many of the buildings of old, castles on volcanic coves, moated manor houses, and windmills. But none of this on Canvey Island is functional. It is an out of work landscape with no use to capitalism; it has been abandoned to nature; industrially purposeless this landscape invigorates. The wind sighing through the reeds and into the centre there is a metal bittern made of rusting barbed wire which is little different from Tracey Emin's exhibit at the Venice Biennale yet able to enhance in a way Emin's trash cannot.

By the side concrete lozenges, tetrahedron shaped punctuated by rusting metal tubes out of which clumps of grass are growing. A burst out into open space of charred trees and amongst the blackened leafless branches there is a gold finch. Across the dyke a basic concrete bridge, a mere slab where the concrete ends the short grass begins. To one side a bunch of sea broom set amongst the broken concrete and rusting metal rod like an industrialised limestone grike; an industrially derelict Gait Barrows but richer still. A grid of raised paths geometric and conscious landscape of concrete roadways like railway lines and in the far distance an old storage drum rather than a triumph full arch. The tarmac basis of these old storage drums but never built on by Occidental. Now crinkled by caterpillar treads like the ripples left by retreating tides left a million years ago.

Then the mysterious concrete hieroglyphs piled up like an industrial Angkor Wat in Cambodia overgrown with sea broom, in the background the oil refinery tower capped by the flame. An abandoned roundabout its decorative brickwork still visible under the encroaching vegetation almost a blue print of a post consumer, anti capitalistic society where roads have been abandoned and returned to the wilds. Behind a huge crack willow like from (John) Constable Country or from a Dutch landscape painting from the 16th century.

And then the EEDA noticed. Advertising the reserve, the notice a sign nature is to be ruined; to be confined to an artificial reserve. (EEDA is a conservation trust in South Essex). By the side of the Thames, huge concrete platforms great square jetties have been mounted on concrete pillars; little wharves of fat weeds. There is no recognisable name for this kind of construction because the construction is a one off. Frequently I was lost for words describing such a place for there are no words for it. A nature reserve will impose conformity upon the place bringing what has no name back into a recognisable language. It will also mean the death of nature!

 

19th June 2007: Castleford, Fairburn Ings, West Yorks

Fairburn Ings owes much to this history of the Aire Valley where 150 years of mining have left their mark. Coal workings to half a kilometre underground have created subsidence and open water has gone up over stretching into great lakes which are now packed with breeding wild fowl.

I have just realised what the broad path with its new base and surface of chippings from the canal pathway over the dykes to the roadways is about. It is the link to the new Castleford; the value added Castleford with the RSPB centre in Fairburn Ings. The path that has been laid down by the RSPB is just the same as the one in the Boars Well in Bradford. It is now become the standard amenity formula, a wide path of chippings on a membrane to prevent the growth of grass. An M1 for nature for it is possible to get a four wheel drive on them - even a Hummer - and that is what matters. There is nothing left of the dovesfoot cranesbill for it only grows on a particular soil. Cut leaf cranesbill will grow on spoil but dovesfoot never. Imported agricultural soil is particularly suitable that is why it is used for roadway verges and it is possibly spread the plant by the motor car.

A birder I met last year from the village of Netherton was sanguine about the RSPB. What upset him the most was the RSPB insensitivity to birds. Widening the path and the dykes so each separate pond flowed into each other had disturbed the habitat of many as eight long eared owls. He just shrugged his shoulders as if to say, "What can you expect of management...... any management"? In fact the new landscaping was done with an eye to draw the new settlers of Castleford's new urbanism - its art /nature makeover.

Possibly the old railway bridge will be retained as a pedestrian bridge linking the new estate with the RSPB reserve. It will be costly to make it safe but not as costly as building a new one. I regret not getting firm footage of the kids jumping from this bridge into the Aire/ Calder canal.

 

21st June 2007: Shipley Station Meadow, Bradford, West Yorks

Photographed a field mouse and was followed by station security. I saw four Common Blue males behind the Morecombe platform but told Susan Stead I had seen five just to rub it in! However, she parried it smartly claiming the males had fled her meadow for high ground for there were no butterflies in her meadow. This may have happened, surely in fact the Common Blues only will reluctantly stay in the meadow possible attracted by the females. Susan is, however, coming round to the view that spraying is effective drastically the Common Blue population in the meadow.

 

31st July 2007: Rainham Marshes, South Essex

Visited Rainham Marshes RSPCB Centre. The terrible walk from Rainham Station with heavy lorries passing continually. What I took to be fences contained a bird reserve which in fact did belong to the RSPB. For this is going to be the unvisited part of the reserve and is to remain roped off. Eventually reached the RSPB Centre. However butterflies preferred the area outside the fencing and as such preferred the abandonment of the levels fronting the Thames and where there were odd structures on which there was a bleached-like tree trunk plus detritus left by high tides. Many Brown Argus but what have they been feeding on? Could not find any dovesfoot cranesbill. Is it possible they have switched to mallow?

The RSPB Centre at first struck us as 1950s eco-modernism, however after a closer inspection we found the window slats were wooden and not concrete and even possibly plastic. Like Bed Zed near Sutton in South London the double glazed windows were made of wood. The Centre is a Fort Knox of conservation and gangways on closing were pulled up like a passenger ramp to a standing plane on a runway. The painted wooden shutters were slid into place along a chevron-like folding louver doors. It was noiseless but impenetrable. There was also solar panels on the roof and probably emitted zero CO2. There was however a car park.

It also could have been an eco-conscious gated community, a sign of things to come and instead of 24 hours CCTV there will be armed guards carrying kalasnikovs.

Spoke to several RSPB volunteers; they are a nice bunch of people. Unlike Butterfly Conservation sorts, the RSPB is driven by an 'us and them' response. And 'them' were invited to a special lunch held in a marquee nearby when Labour Minister, Ruth Kelly and Bill Oddie came to officially open the reserve. Their 'workers' were not allowed anywhere near the marquee and had to bring their own sandwiches we were told. This response came from an RSPB volunteer who attended the stall in the canteen. He could easily be pushed into radicalism. He wore a bit of cheap bling around his neck. Butterfly Conservation would never be that cheap or that radical.

 

5th August 2007: A visit to Ashstead Common, Surrey

We visited Ashstead with the view to taking more photographs of the Purple Emperor. Had also hoped to see a dished White Admiral or two and perhaps some Silver Washed Fritillaries.

It was a scene of desolation, the trees could only be described as being sickly, and shedding leaves like plants do that has been stood in water for too long. The sallow in particular looked treackly-leaved lacking body. On the upper branches the twigs were bare of leaves except with two or three at the tip. Many oak twigs were bare of leaves with the tip of the twigs down and what leaves there were turning brown and crinkly not through the heat but damp. They looked musty and diseased eaten away by a fungus. Even the occasional silver birch looked droopy as though drowning from uptake of water.

We saw one Silver Washed Fritillary for definite, no Purple Emperors however. There were a few Hedge Browns, their numbers never remotely approaching that of previous years. But most surprisingly of all, there were no Meadow Browns. Could they have all drowned in the lava or pupa stage? Three days ago we had seen quite a number at Rainham Marshes but significantly this part of Thameside has been spared of the intense downpour elsewhere. If another monsoon year is to follow this then butterflies may find it impossible to recover for many years and what then???

 

BUTTERFLY NOTEBOOKS: NO 14: AUGUST 2007 to AUGUST 2009

 

27th August 2007: Ranmore Common, Surrey.

An announcement on the radio confirming another outbreak of foot and mouth nearby nearly caused me to cancel the trip. Spotted a Meadow Brown, so their absence on Ashstead Common must be an anomaly; plenty of Chalk Hill Blues but the Adonis Blue have yet to emerge. All the females we saw had mated or merely 'flirted' with persistent males. I saw one female chased by half a dozen males. The females manage to escape but the males still kept up their merry dance. The females were in egg-laying mode but I never managed to locate an egg. There appears to be a very sub race of small Brown Argus; perhaps 50% - even more- were like this. Seasonal factors must be responsible for this small race though we have noticed a small specimen some years ago appearing after a warm summer. The Silver Spotted Skipper is yet to emerge. Found a Small Elephant Hawk caterpillar. Maybe it was seeking to pupate for it was far from its food plant. The Surrey Hills remind me of Pre-Raphaelite landscapes when the air is still having a crystalline look about it. I was strongly reminded of Millais particularly the near-fluorescent greens. I have long thought this a nauseous exaggeration but it is the exact colour when a shaft of sunlight strikes a meadow and all is in shadow particularly the trees around it.
Mountain Ringlet

Female: suffused blotches more distinct and paler. male – high degree of variation....range of blotches can be almost nonexistent (ab: obsoleta) and can vary from circular spots to pear shaped blotches....makes zigzag rarely rising more than 30cm... investigates all brown object... flight pattern is a criss-cross over a limited area.

 

The following year is 2008

 

7th May 2008: Urban wild life meeting Bingley. Random facts from a conversation with Bradford's Chief Conservation Officer.

He told me he had worked in the job for 26 years and is now due to retire, in fact forced to retire. When he first started the countryside service had 119 members. Now they are down to 9. I asked if that was the result of privatisation and the bringing in of outside subcontractors. No, he said simply the result of cutbacks. However the number employed in garbage disposal had increased. He is now reliant on volunteers, particularly students. As the chief conservation officer he finds he is doing more practical work mending fences and so on when someone else should be doing it and he monitoring and collecting data on wild life in Bradford. A degree of job dilution had taken place, leading to a degree of bitterness.

He is an angler and cast an expert eye over a petri-dish of otter spraint, finding fish scales and even a portion of backbone. However he was not convinced it was otter spraint and said it could be a regurgitated pellet from a fish eating bird like a cormorant. He also asked Susan in future not to pick up otter spraint and leave it to the experts to examine. His chief hatred is mink because they are such destructive creatures having no natural predators. In fact they are more closely related to pine martins than to otters and can for example climb trees, which otters cannot do. Hence they are able to raid nests of tawny owls - he had a photo of a mink coming out of a hollow tree in Esholt where a tawny owl was nesting. They also use hollow trees as larders, especially for fish and are not put off when the fish starts to putrefy. The mink had destroyed an entire colony of sand martins in Bingley.

Interestingly he said the biomass of the Leeds/Liverpool canal was greater than that of the River Aire. The water is far cleaner and constantly replenished, no effluent ever finding its way into the canal. Eels are still to be found in canals whereas they all but disappeared from the rivers. Bullheads are generally a sign of the health of running waters: they are to be found in abundance under the stones of side flashes at canal locks far more so than in the River Aire. I raised the matter of dumping in rivers - shopping trolleys or stolen cars. He admitted that certain kinds of dumping created favourable habitats for wild life similar to the way sunken ships create artificial reefs spawning a diverse marine life. Of all the streams around Keighley and including the River Aire, the most bio diverse spot was the Worth Beck behind Morrisons. It has become a dumping ground, which has generally aided wild life. He thought abandoned tyres did not assist wildlife but were useful for shoring up bank sides. Though he didn't use such strong language, his view was nature doesn't give a fuck for aesthetics.

Grouse moors are easily more bio diverse than moors left to grow wild - a regrettable paradox of ever there was one. Grouse shooting is a costly business and very definitely a sport for the rich. For every grouse shot one pays £130 a head compared with £20 for a pheasant. Even so, the shoots are composed mainly of local people, which show how very well-off the further reaches of the Bradford Metropolitan Council are. There are peregrines at Ponden Kirk but the gamekeepers may well shoot or poison the birds for there can be no doubting from nest remains that peregrines kill grouse.

Bradford Council owns more wild life than any other council in England. Mulching attracts worms, spiders and decomposing larvae. We were taken to a spot that was banked up with sawn logs taken from the River Aire and now a perfect haven for hedgehogs. There was a lot of poaching going on of swans, roe deer and fish. Gangs of East Europeans would loot the countryside and were mainly to blame. He had caught one about to strangle a swan. He had also found dumped carcases of roe deer behind walls waiting to be picked dup after dark.

Insurance premiums had rocketed and though he was allowed to use a chain saw, he was prevented from using one on his own and was now required to take a look out with him for safety reasons. He was particularly irked by the blame and claim culture leading to all manner of Spanish practises. The fact that he had to have someone accompany him reminded me of doubling up –the 'ghosting' - characteristic of the national dock labour scheme when it was in force. Nor was he allowed to sell any of the 'meat' he culled. He had for instance culled about 110 Canadian geese and, though anyone is entitled to kill the birds when in season, they are not allowed to sell the carcasses when people would willingly have paid £5 for a wild goose which would have been very tasty - far more so than free range geese reared in captive conditions.

 

May 2008: Denge Woods, Kent

A cool day to begin with. Narrow Lane to Denge Wood on typical country roads. Arrived at Bonia Bank in Denge Wood. and it was immediately obvious the terrain had been prepared for the Duke of Burgundy. When we parked the car we noticed a man with a large telephoto lens. Was he going for the Duke also.... He was! He turned out to be from Barclays Bank, quiet, somewhat shy and reserved. He was the first to find the Duke of Burgundy in this sheltered spot along the major ride. He hailed us to let us know. There were three Dukes there, very docile and easy to photograph. They had been out for about one and half week. All males apparently and the females had yet to emerge.

I engaged our photographer in conversation, mentioning Healey Mills Marshalling Yards in West Yorks and how Butterfly Conservation and the local bio-diversity group ignored this remarkably colony. He said Barclays would have been pleased if the colony was on their property and probably would have denoted money to help manage the butterfly. It turned out he was something of a radical conservationist and new the battle was being lost. - a kind of eco-apocalyptic and he gave David his email address.

All rather different to the assembled naturalist, a few of them at least on the site. A couple called Don and Anna were out photographing the Duke too. Don had reared and bred butterflies - tropical butterflies in a greenhouse. He was not a friend of Butterfly Conservation and obviously must have had run-ins with them at one time or another. According to him there were arguments for and against introductions in nature. He knew of a national survey of the Small Tortoiseshells and Peacocks which I did not know about. It seems the Small Tortoiseshells are being paratised while it appears the Peacocks are not. He was an orchid man, rather domineering, a know all and slightly bombastic and a self paradody of what men are supposed to be. His wife knew how to handle him and keep her end up.

Two men appeared and our introducer of butterflies knew them. One was called Redman, the other was wearing sunglasses, hair down past his neck, possibly intellectual.Both were patently obsessed. Desmond was obviously the more obvious proletarian of the two. It was these two who gave me the name of their web site called "Planet Thanet". I asked Desmond if the Dingy Skipper flew on the Thames Estuary... "Don't know mate" came back the reply.

I began to think they were local naturalists. Not much interested in what was happening outside of a few square miles around Ashford (and Thanet). Rather like Susan Eldwick in Bradford in other words. I felt this localism was reflected in that doyen of English Naturalists, Gilbert White way back centuries ago."Think local, act local" could be their motto. This localism is reflected in their web site Planet Thanet. Kent Wildlife Trust manages Bonia Bank. Criticised by Butterfly Conservation the Forestry Commission handed over management of the site to Butterfly Conservation. Probably this management template is that evolved for the Duke of Burgundy by David Wainwright and Sam Ellis in North Yorkshire.

I asked Desmond if he knew about roosting habits for the Duke: "Nar mate" came the reply again. Around 15 00 hours the Duke of Burgundy began to settle down. There was a patch of the wayfaring tree which they liked. Also one settled on an ash sapling. However I do not know if this behaviour is customary. By 16 30 hours although the day was now warm and sunny the Dukes' had disappeared. The males liked to land on the primrose.

Dan had seen Holly Blues laying on lucerne. Green Hairstreaks are now laying on brambles just as their Latin name implies. The Green Hairstreaks are a lighter shade of blue green than in West Yorks. The viridian moment is less in evidence.

Comments on Planet Thanet website. They have ideas about direct democracy. The main criteria being that the number of people should be small enough for everyone to know the other members. The election of the chair person is done by the committee, all levels of representatives being the spokes person for their group, not making decisions. Indiduals elected for public office – i.e. MPs/ Councillors/ etc should be paid by the area electing them not from the national budget. On voting, the candidates must be resident in the constituency. The term of office should be four years. (They use the term "deputies").

 

Further notes on Denge Wood:

Denge Wood and all other woods in Kent have a luxuriance I have never encountered before in the UK. Samuel Palmer got it, his exaggeration of reality – a reality of exaggeration. This was extraordinarily diverse woodland, worked woodland – or at least it had been in the past.

Our Barclays man mentioned there had been a rave in Denge Wood, which had been very destructive. This Barclays man (finance capital & nature) said, "Nature is ruined". The hiatus within finance capital & nature. Finance capital versus nature.

 

23rd May 2008: Detling Hill, North Downs, Kent

Arrived late on the hillside around 3 30. It was warm and overcast. Around 4 30 the sun broke through and for a brief moment the Grizzled Skippers were docile. They rested on the tops of dead stalks but as the early evening sun grew hotter became more active. Many still looked fresh – but less numerous than they were two weeks ago. Even so some still looked pristine. Probably it was by now around five in the evening too late in the day and the butterflies were in roosting mode. Around 5 40 David found three well up the bank side. I believe they were female as I photographed one on wild strawberry, its food plant. It was possibly egg laying.

The Grizzled Skippers like resting on the wayfaring tree just as the Duke of Burgundy does. Possibly this is where they roost. Do the females have a tendency to prefer evening for egg laying? Less hampered by males they maybe can devote themselves to egg laying unmolested.

 

2nd June 2008: Baildon Moor, West Yorks

Overcast and warm but too overcast to bring the Green Hairstreaks up to the top of the bilberry. So I photographed a dark form of the Common Heath moth instead of the white variety. Is this a sex-based characteristic because it appeared to behave like a female? I managed to get shots of it probing twigs with its ovipositor – a first surely because it is such a jumpy moth. When it rested on a sprig of heather it was virtually indistinguishable from last year's dead blooms. Indeed for a time I continued filming a spray of last year's heather in the belief I was filming the moth! It had however flown off into the bilberry where it was very visible once more. Walkers passed me and I talked to them. I asked one woman if she was a dog walker as she was accompanied by so many dogs, "No, a dog lover" she replied.

 

4th June 2008: Waleswood and the Rother Valley Country Park, South Yorks

The Dingy Skippers at Dinnington are just to say hanging on. However, they appear not to have moved on to the new path by the fence separating the old spoil heap from the huge new printing distribution complex built on the place where the pit shaft was. Surely the Dingy Skipper must be Britain's most sedentary butterfly. Really it is amazing how widespread they once were considering they are such slow colonisers.

Met a guy, a former miner deeply sceptical about the spoil heap makeovers. He was contemptuous of Yorkshire Forward and argued they were unelected, unresponsive bodies. His home had been flooded up to a depth of three feet last year in the late summer Yorkshire floods. He has repeatedly asked that a deeper culvert be dug holding several meetings to which Yorkshire Forward had been invited – for them never to turn up. He agreed the old spoil heaps were better for wild life and that the fishponds at Kiveton Park were a total failure. These ex-miners generally hate the spoil heap makeovers and they go to the heart of the matter far quicker than say, Butterfly Conservation. It is also the reason why the mining community had to be destroyed. He also claimed the Bluebell Hospice was still not in use and that the only people in attendance were white-collar staff.

A Notice at Dinnington stuck to a post said the following: "the specially designed bird scrape is an area of wetland no more than a metre deep and large areas of shale where birds nest. This is an ideal habitat for wetland birds including ringed plover and red shank".

Another notice on the spoil heap said: "Steps to health. Dinnington Community Woodland steps-to-health-walk. Walking is a great way to improve your health and just about everyone can do it. Walking strengthens your heart, your bones and your muscles – and it helps to control your eyesight too. Walking is free and will enrich your life in many ways". The notice was sponsored by Rotherham NHS, Land Restoration Trust, the Forestry Commission, Neighbourhood Renewal Unit, Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council, Environment and Development Services.

There was a pipe sculpture of a walker. These amenity parks are also turning into sculpture parks – the model is the Yorkshire sculpture park at Bretton Hall. The emphasis on walking in these amenity makeovers reflects the ethos of the new eco towns particularly on the need to become active to prevent obesity.

 

5th June 2008: Maltby Colliery, South Yorks

Found the main Dingy Skipper site almost immediately. However they were not to be found along the bare earth path but on the overgrown spoil hillside where there was no bare earth. Most of the Dingies were female and appeared to be egg laying. This was in late morning. They were to be found nowhere else on the site.

As a working colliery, Maltby has a most peculiar colliery spoil heap. It has been flattened and shaped and the spoil from the pit is continually being dumped. Gone were the precipitous spoil cliffs typical of the days of the overhead, hydraulic buckets. Here there were areas thick with nettles – very high nettles such as one finds on nitrate-rich soils that are artificially fertilised twice a year. Why? Also there were huge hedge parsley and elderberry bushes – rare plants and trees for a spoil heap. On the part where the Dingy Skipper was to be found clay had been laid down over the spoil. The trefoil was continental trefoil so there had been some kind of makeover even here and in the fairly recent past.

The Maltby allotments were something else. David referred to them as 'the Maltby favela'. These weren't allotments but second homes, a second life. There were pigs, horses, ducks, and many hens, even sheep. Remarkable!

Some facts on Maltby Colliery: In February 2007, Maltby was sold by UK Coal to Hargreaves Services. Drax accounts for 60% of Maltby coal production. Hargreaves has opened an office in Duisberg near Dusseldorf. As part of the sale, Hargreaves signed a three-year contract with Drax power. Hargreaves owns Monckton Coke and Chemical Co, which have 25% of coking coal capacity at Maltby. Hargreaves is one of the most rapidly expanding minerals and support services grouping the UK and has an enviable reputation in providing technical and project support services within energy and waste industries.

 

10th June 2008: Penistone railway station, South Yorks

The Dingy Skipper population is much reduced - by about two thirds by my reckoning. I have never seen such a profusion of trefoil at Penistone. It had spread over the flat land that used to be the sidings and what will eventually become a car park if the trans Pennine woodland route is re-opened. Rail track budget has been reduced however and if private money is not forthcoming it will never be constructed. The Dingy Skippers are still to be found on the bank side that drops down to the road. It is a remarkable sedentary butterfly and clings on to the ancestral sites when other, equally good habitats often fairly close by are ignored. How then were they once so common? Is it because the butterfly is now so threatened that it is becoming increasingly picky?

The iron grating is now covered with grass. I thought the place had been cleaned up and only by chance did I notice the grating after scuffing the grass. I unearthed part of it to take some film footage to show how quickly nature reclaims industrially derelict sites. The butterflies are so few in number that they no longer frequent the industrial detritus. There is a return to 'nature', a return that is an indicator of stress more than a sign of a healthy population. I noticed on the large tyre a Five Spot Burnet caterpillar. I filmed it to the sound of passing trains. I then thought to contrast this with shots of the caterpillar in this more natural environment, though it has to be said they are great explorers one climbing onto my bag as I lay stretched out filming one spinning a chrysalis. I spent a good couple of hours filming the latter. I did so at infrequent intervals. It took about two hours for the chrysalis to be woven. The silk thread could not have been sticky though obviously strong and the caterpillar was able to reverse using its claspers to grip the silk thread. Finally it ejected a sticky yellow fluid the colour of a polyurethane varnish and this cellulose-like liquid was used to bind the silk, the caterpillar using its chitin head as a paintbrush. Finally it turned right side up with its head facing the exit where it remained until it cast its final skin. There were minute holes in the chrysalis weave. Were they sufficiently large for a parasite to lay eggs in the pupa?

The Dingy Skippers were down in number at Waleswood even there was a good showing of trefoil on the ground. The butterflies show every sign of becoming a stressed population. There were also a few Dingies in the Rother Valley. Generally they were more dished here than in Waleswood. Common Blues appear little affected by last year's inundation. Also there were a number of Brown Argus, one Large Skipper and a Small Copper.

 

11th June 2008:

A year ago I felt dreadful when I lost a Green Hairstreak egg. The mere thought of the poor mite of a caterpillar crawling around in search of food plant and then dying really upset me greatly. Now I seem to have grown harder. I think the experience of depression and the fact that an animal rightist treated me a million times worse than a battery chicken has changed all that. Such sentiment as I had can be at the neglect of the human world.

 

13th June 2008: West Chevin, Otley, West Yorks

Overcast. I returned immediately as the chances of finding a Green Hairstreak were extremely remote even if it had been a sunny day. My two Dingies are dead. Despite inspecting the plants I was unable to locate one egg. Maybe they died because of a lack of nectar. They were bitten by ants as they roosted close to the ground. This may well be the reason they roost on the dead branches of flowers like knapweed and woodrush; possibly none roost low down in the trefoil. Next time when I breed I should remember to place stalks inside on which the butterflies can roost. The butterflies died prematurely without laying eggs. So I feel bad about that. I simply don't have the space for successful breeding. Obviously one needs to create as lifelike an environment as possible. The conditions in Jenny's garage in Dinnington were the best for laying eggs. It was very warm and humid and Dingies continued laying despite the lack of sunlight.

 

30th June 2008: Langdale Pikes, Cumbria

To Dungeon Ghyll and then the long walk up Bright Beck. Tarried for a moment at Stickle Tarn, the sheer effort of climbing the ghyll causes a person to change. Perception begins to change and the memory. It is no longer so acute. Harrison Stickle and Pavey Ark appeared to pulsate as if they were breathing. Once at Sergeant Mann we sat down and it turned very cold. I had to rub my arms to keep warm and my fingers seized up. This attack of mid-summer hypothermia made it almost impossible to change lenses, as my fingers were so cold. We did see one Mountain Ringlet. The sun weak though it was was sufficient to bring the butterfly up out of the low grass very quickly possibly within four minutes.

Despite the fact a near gale was blowing the Mountain Ringlet flew towards the ridge of Sergeant Mann to get the most from the sun temporarily basking on a rock with its wings open. It responded to sunshine immediately quickly opening its wings. Sinking low into the grass it was still buffeted by every gust of wind. This was a newly emerged specimen and we reckoned they were just to say emerging. The nectar sources were meagre, the cotton grass was just beginning to show and there were no other flying insects – not one Small Heath or Wood Tiger like we had seen in other years. Talking to a couple from Surrey they said they had seen lots of caterpillars basking on rocks along the continuous semi circle of Pavey Ark. These I took to perhaps be Wood Tiger. Again I would say the emergence is a month behind normal. Managed to get incredibly close–ups of Mountain Ringlet feelers and eyes etc in a howling gale. No one has done this before.

 

1st July 2008: Snarker Point, Cumbria

Both of us nearly incapable of walking. The ascent up Snarker Point was hell. We found nothing though it remained sunny most of the day. I would bet we did find the Mountain Ringlet site though nothing was flying. Took film of thyme, the mountain pansy and field bedstraw. I found a little plant of trefoil with two blooms – and that was all. We will have to be more strategic about the Mountain Ringlet in future. We should have gone up Sergeant Mann today and Snarker Point yesterday. But the gruelling adventures are there own reward. Few would do it at our age – in fact no one.

 

29th July 2008: Ashstead Common, Surrey

What a year for flowers! The buddleia is blooming like never before – only now bare of insects. Today I saw six foot and seven-foot marsh thistles easily twice their normal size. Where once there would be Large Skippers, Meadow Browns and Small Tortoiseshell nectaring on them now there was nothing this tragedy is going unnoticed and unmentioned. Well we did see some Purple Emperors. In fact I saw one fly above me at Flag Pond and I have never seen one here before. But at the usual spot – the high Ashstead oaks – I saw nothing though David saw what he took to be a female float by him at head height – presumably a female.

Coming back I noticed a Purple Hairstreak on willow. Somewhat unreal I thought when suddenly I saw a Purple Emperor on some sallow. I was unable to get movie shots of it. Interestingly it was beside the bridal path where we first saw the Purple Emperor some ten years ago. This surely must be a favourable egg laying spot. Perhaps the warmth radiated by the ride is a feature that attracts them plus the unbroken hazy shafts of sunlight below, unlike those spots where the sallow is surrounded by dense undergrowth.

The forest has been considerably coppiced since we were last here. We saw how it was done: a process called bracken rolling. It looked like alternative technology in motion, a subtle adaptation of a tractor, a JC and a heavy roller as are used on playing fields but this time punctuated with horizontal blades which mulch the fronds after they have been sliced by the digger, which has instead of the usual teeth for digging at its front edge has a sharp blade which acts like a scythe. We both watched the machine fascinated. Eventually the driver came up to talk to us wearing a City of London shirt. He said the aim was to return the woodland to grazed woodland with longhorn cattle such as there are now in Windsor Park. However, since it was common land it would mean putting up a lot of fencing.

We saw only one Small Skipper and pitifully few Meadow Browns. It was a very god year for Ringlets – in fact I have never seen so many at Ashstead. The White Admiral appears to have gone over and we did not see one Silver washed fritillary, which is most disturbing. The Purple Hairstreaks were down in number but up on last year.

 

10th August 2008: The New Forest, Lymington, Hampshire

Hoped we would see the Silver Washed Fritillary and better still the valenzina aberration. We never saw one, normal or freak! Most disturbing what could have happened? The last of the Silver Studded Blue were flying. A few Meadow Browns and a few Hedge Browns. The collapse of the butterfly population is astonishing – the same goes for the hover flies etc.

We did see a number of Grayling but they were restricted to a particular patch. The gorse on this patch had been hacked down and left. Bleached by the sun they resembled dried bones. The Grayling liked to rest on the scattered branches, which clearly formed an essential part of the butterfly's ecology and is probably the reason the Grayling was pretty much restricted to this area of strewn gorse. I managed to photograph an egg–laying Grayling. Interestingly, it curved its body not down but up and over its head. The egg was a pearly white colour laid on short sward of sheep fescue and on the narrowest of blades. The butterfly did not resemble those we had seen in Morecambe Bay being far more like the ones we had seen on the Mendips. It tended to confirm our view that the Healey Mills West Yorks Grayling have come from the south or West Country – from peaty clay rather than a limestone area. About 1 in 8 of the butterflies had a noticeable flash unlike any I had ever seen before. It was almost pure white – nearly as white as the white slash on the wings of the White Admiral. Unfortunately I was unable to procure any footage of this variety. It may have been sexed-linked even.

The problem people of the caravan club whose site we were staying on. Someone taking photos for their website asked me to unfold my arms! Why ever for? There are many norms that cannot be questioned here though with each day that passes they become increasingly hollow. The more hollow they become the more they are insisted upon as if the world will disintegrate if we do not cling onto these formalities. In fact the most interesting part of the entire evening was towards the end when someone called Julie mentioned pedigree chum had withdrawn sponsorship of dog shows because of the credit crunch. Talk then turned towards energy matters, the conflict in Ossettia, narrow country lanes it wasn't safe to drive down, the distance from bus routes and so on. Peter, Julie's husband said the four-wheel drive is finished. In effect he was saying so was the caravan club, or at least, it would be the last of its kind.

 

12th August 2008: Still in the New Forest

Picked up four more Grayling eggs, although I managed to procure a shot of a Grayling with the brilliant white stripe. As it spent all its time flitting from log to log we assumed it was a male. We also came to the conclusion the first Graylings had emerged fairly recently. Not one was in any way bashed, so it was not surprising that the males appeared to dominate in ratio of one female to eight males. The egg laying Graylings evinced the habit of curving their bodies forward and laying an egg actually in front of the Grayling's head where presumably it must be visible to its compound eye – or it is on occasion. One laid an egg on a desiccated stalk of sheeps fescue. But otherwise the eggs were laid an inch or so from the tip of the fescue stalk.

The area contained clumps of short fescue interspersed with the bare bones of branches strewn around. Either bleached or a dark brown at the other extreme where the dark gorse had begun to decompose it perfectly suited the Grayling as background camouflage. They only rarely rested on the ground.

 

24th August 2008: Healey Mills Marshalling Yards, Horbury, West Yorks

Returned to find Storrs Hill intact. And I had expected to see an abandoned building site – a beautiful terrain spoilt for evermore though apart from a few Hedge Browns there was nothing to see – certainly no Grayling. However it will be surviving somewhere here. The yards had been cleared – at least the carr woodland has and this can only be good for the Grayling. Sections of railways still bolted to sleepers had been piled up at intervals. Several joints and a buffer had been painted with a "keep" sign. We thought maybe the track had been pulled up to sell off as scrap metal (presumably some had) and that even Kirklees bio-diversity had been involved. How foolish can one be? I doubt if EWS (Now a Deutche Bahn company DB Sheneker) knows of the Grayling's existence?

I think it likely a small siding of new track will be laid down to accommodate used rolling stock. Obviously ballast will be brought in on which to rest the new track. But hopefully nothing more drastic will take place. It is unlikely the track will be sprayed with weed killer so eventually the new track should be ideal for the Grayling. It was absolutely essential the carr woodland be felled. Ironically (as always) it was industry not the conservation lobby that affected the transformation. We saw altogether about five Grayling. The one I photographed was dished so the butterfly had emerged at the usual time in the yards – and before the New Forest Graylings.

A little later two of the Grayling caterpillars emerged. It is to be hoped they commence feeding after their first high protein meal of eggshell. Before the eggs hatch they change from a creamy white, which is not difficult to see to a pale green, which makes them all but invisible. Had I not used the backlight on the microscope I would not have been able to see them.

I talked to a lovely woman in the lane leading out of the marshalling yards. She was enquiring wanting to know the name of the Common Blue. She also spoke occasionally of Stan Barstow – the novelist (A Kind Of Loving) who had a little shop in Horbury. A woman after my own heart – a chance encounter; a brief encounter. She lived in a council house and had a little poodle. I watched her run through a field – and wished I were going out with her. She asked if we had seen the "giant cat" – a puma or lynx. She had last seen it only yesterday teatime – but it had run off. No one ever manages to get a photograph of one – despite the thousands of sightings of these mythic creatures are all over the country.

In Dewsbury bus station saw a typical West Yorks eccentric carrying an old canvas-shipping bag. On his outsize T-shirt was written "The legend, the man, the myth, the legend". In Bradford an old 70 some was walking around waving a skull and crossbones – the pirate flag. Another nutter tried to take it off him.

 

12th September 2008: A Visit to Hull & Grimsby

"The god of life is living in agreement with nature" Zeno

So says The Deep at Hull put together by (Sir) Terry Farrell. This was a pastiche of my final year art exhibition in Newcastle in 1966, (Farrell used to be smarmy with me and Johnny Myers thumped him) plus Icteric and Schwitter's Merz Bahn. Consider the tanks of fish, the Merz-like wall of fossils and the interactivity – pure John Fox. It was not an aquarium such as exits in Orlando, Florida, but an experience, an installation, a fun fair, an arcade. Educational fun for game boys and girls; kids making a racket; harassed grandparents; the ground floor shop was a novelty shop for kids more than just knick knacks, or tourist trivia. This regional icon is built from the ground up and is specifically aimed to appeal to kids: it is the new interactive school, the game boy school. Push button, digital fish in one section of the exhibit; elsewhere visitors were invited to stamp on electronic fish – rather than a screen it was a floor. No one ever succeeded in stamping on a fish – the software rather than the fish was just too good.

A trip to the fishing heritage centre and a guided tour of the Sea Tiger by an ex-crew man. An outspoken man he had jacked ship – though probably only the once – and taken the rest of the crew with him. He referred to some skippers as 'pigs' and others as 'gentlemen' – the latter usually retained their crew while the others could not. And they were not good seafarers. They were known for driving the crew and allowing only one tot of rum per day. They also tended to lose men at sea.

He was bitter as well though still full of humour. He had five girls and had to go to sea – not to feed them but to get away from their noise. He chiefly resented his job as a trawler man because he was described as "casual labour". In his eyes it was skilled work and he was proud he could itemize everything aboard ship from the tackle to the knots – everything. If the industry had been nationalised he reckoned it would have been different and he would have received compensation. There was indeed a "labour pool" but nothing like the Dock Labour Scheme. For reasons I didn't understand he thought Edward Heath and the early 1970s Tory government had destroyed the industry.

 

30th October 2008: A Dream

I dreamt I was queuing at a station talking to people. One pondered why there was no peoples' uprising in the United States and that the bankers had factored in the lack of resistance enabling them to push the banking system to the point of collapse. I said I never would have ever thought I would see this sort of thing happening in my lifetime. The person I was talking to was joined by his mate – they obsessively discussed the financial crises – like good buddies returning home to their wives they were unable to communicate with. And so it was not just an economic crises but an emotional one also.

To top it all I noticed a moth, a small one, but I noticed people on the bus watched it rather than kill it. I then noticed a moth trap by the roadside and David dismounted to chase a moth.

And there we had it: an unprecedented financial crisis; an interspersed one and finally an ecological crisis each compounding the other. I also dreamt of Marbled Whites in places where I had never seen them and at a time of year when they are never on the wing. Their wings were mildewed like the fungal disease affecting oaks in wet years.

Labour as the 'abstract' of value. Universal abstract labour. The artist as demiurge substituting for class struggle as the motor of history. Value as the value of art installations/concept as the valorisation of nothingness, its increasing democratisation leading to devalorisation. Frank Dumphy told Damien Hirst, "An art work is only worth what the next guy pays for it".

 

BUTTERFLY NOTEBOOKS 2009

 

27th May 2009: Baildon Moor, West Yorks

Coolish day with occasional sunshine and no Green Hairstreaks. However I hope I have cracked the mystery of the young Green Hairstreak caterpillars. There had to be hundreds of them. And I did find hundreds of caterpillars – the tell tale signs of overturned leaves at the top of plants, the windowed cell structure, the frass tumbling onto the leaves below. Peering between the leaves, the silk webbing and the movement of a black head like some living thing trapped inside a giant, slightly toothed mouth raving around unable to escape but not about to be swallowed. These bilberry leaves with jaws concealed the presence of thousands of green hairstreak larvae.

They all tended to be found within a band circling just below the perimeter of the bell pits. The lower one descended into the bell pit the fewer there were. Not the clumps but dispersed fronds of bilberry no higher than five inches was the place to look. Below a matt of hair moss. Perhaps this may explain the arced spotting of the upper and lower wing characteristic of the ab: punctata. And is it sex-linked characteristic particularly prevalent amongst females?

The eggs are always laid at the top of the bilberry shoots that thrust through the hair moss. My guess is that they are laid on the mid rib close to which another leaf is forming. When the egg hatches within five to seven days the young larvae seizes the tender green leaf and makes a tent for itself. From there it devours the upper surface of the leaf leaving a thin film. At this stage it does not bite through the leaf. It also remains in one position its anal end pointed down over, the frass collecting at the bottom of the leaf, a neat and tiny arrangement. The young caterpillar tends to eat one leaf more than the other, a practise which must afford it greater protection.

I noticed a number of the fruiting heads had been partially eaten. This has confused my views. Perhaps the butterfly even deposits eggs on the upper bell-shaped end of the flower. Over time it turns green indicating it is capable of photosynthesis and so edible once the caterpillar has emerged. The proto fruit also provides an ideal 'home' for the young larvae. Why the warm shelter? At these exposed heights it must protect from rain and perhaps spiders. Only later when the caterpillar grows will birds particularly meadow pipits become a serious menace. The young caterpillars are easily dislodged once the silken seal is broken.

The anthocynamin of the young leaves at the top of the short shoots of bilberry leaves. And then the pigments of bilberry flowers. Can the chemo receptors of the Green Hairstreak tell the difference and is it attracted to the former because that is where the tenderest shoots are. Is it possible that while nectaring, the female will on occasion deposit an egg on the flowers?

The following is from Thomas and Lewington's "Butterflies"

No thorough study has been made of the Green Hairstreak – (but) have noted that the females lay among the most tender young tissues which probably contain the most nitrogen. The female has an unusually flat ovipositor, which enables her to inject eggs into the tightest crevices, such as deep between the soft growing plants of gorse leaves – the small caterpillar borrows into the nutritious soft plant tissue. They are unexciting creatures that live herded over the growing tip of their food plants, with their heads buried deep in its tissue.

The two features common to most sites are that they are warm and sheltered, and that shrubs are always present. No one has explained yet why it is such a local butterfly in much of its range.

 

31st May 2009: Woolley Colliery, West Yorks

Marsh st john's wort. A nature perennial found in bogs by streams and ponds in acid soils. Rather rare found mainly on west coast of Britain.

An absolutely cloudless day. Never have I experienced anything like it in West Yorks. The dingy skippers were down in number – a third of their usual number. The good thing is we found them in a part of the site we had never previously seen them in. and the Woolley makeover has now been abandoned for lack of cash which favours the Dingy. Let's hope the trefoil spreads across the 'larval' flow – for that's what it is like – of the spoil heap.

It is the amazing variety of Woolley that never fails to impress – the common reed framed against the skyline, the marsh orchids, the clumps of rats' tail grass, a hawthorn bush dead except for some flowering may. The rusting fountains and their rich coating of iron ore deposits, creating brown coloured lakes with the rare marsh st john's wort on the perimeter pathway. The blues, the Small Heaths, the Dingy Skippers. Undoubtedly the centre of the colony is a warm culvert running alongside the railway. It is concreted on both sides and is damp at the bottom in parts. Perfect not just for the Dingy Skipper but other butterflies as well. This is the place then to get a sense of industrial place and industrial materials.

We went to the other side of the railway from Leeds to Barnsley to see the other remarkable industrial fountain. At the far end of the second pond I was surprised by an oxidizing iron structure appearing just below the surface of the lake. This grid of iron was being added to as the sulphates of iron encased it. It was like a nameless wreck, a ship that never a ship. It was especially remarkable as on the bank above the marsh st john wort grew.

The day of discovery was crowned when we noticed a pair of small birds no bigger than wagtails. They had to be plovers but too small for ringed plovers. When we saw a birder we were left in no doubt they were little ringed plovers. They must have been attracted by the drainage pans needed to irrigate this vast spoil heap. We unfortunately never got to talk to the birder. I espied him skidding along the bottom – baseball hat, dark glasses, military fatigues, carrying a birdscope strung over his shoulder like a long range rifle. Earlier we had wondered who had bent the metal fence surrounds a pond sufficient to allow a person to get through. For what reason we also wondered. But when we saw the military birder SAS twitcher pass through we realised who'd done it. (The little ringed plover usually travels singularly or in pairs. Over the past forty years it has colonised new areas of Europe by adapting to gravel pits as substitutes for the margins of rivers where' improvement' schemes have reduced its numbers).

The little ringed plover disappeared from the makeovers at Dinnington and Kiveton. Paradoxically, the aborted makeover of Woolley may have helped save it. And what luck for the wild life of Woolley, the credit crunch arrived on the scene when it did. Had it occurred in 2004 the Dingies would have been saved on Kiveton, Orgreave, Thurcroft etc. as it is vast stretches of Woolley have been left to regenerate on their own. It is to be hoped the trefoil will eventually cover all that has been left of the original spoil bringing the Dingy Skipper with it. This however was never the intention.

From the vantage point of the old spoil heap one could see how efforts to eventually the so-called horror out from the new estate had been put in place. High fences have been erected, trees planted to conceal the horror from view. But the colliery spoil heap at least partially was providentially assisted by the credit crunch. All other housing and commercial development on former spoil heaps have been on the flat. Woolley Grange was built on the heights of the spoil. It is to be hoped problems will begin to develop because spoil is notorious for absorbing water like a giant sponge and thus becoming dangerously unstable. This post modern Aberfan could yet slide down the hillside and Woolley Grange becomes the final symbol of makeover hubris. Of all the former colliery spoil heaps, Woolley is the most fascinating, its cryptic industrial relics second to none; its nature also.

Nature and the image. Nature intensifies expectations which are constantly frustrated. Not however if one is adaptable. Then it becomes a source of constant difference.

 

2nd June 2009: On the Greenway – The Former Spen Valley railway Line, West Yorks

Prompted ideas for filming the Purple Hairstreak. Stands of bistort, the young and tastier shoots make up dock pudding. Hard boiled eggs. More orange hawksbit than I have ever previously seen. Very little birds foot trefoil and was really only to be found in a cutting near Heckmondwike where I also saw 2 male Common Blues. My guess is the butterfly has been here since the in the 1950s just like at Storrs Hill.

Along the greenway were signpost sculptures designed for the millennium. Really they were naive bits of welding that had a charm entirely lacking in Anthony 'Gormless' Gormley. But these constructions were not done by an artist as they were too charming and unpretentious for that. There was also doggerel poems on the bridges. e.g. "strikers striking" near Rawfolds.

Went on to Healey Mills and the yards appeared totally deserted so at last the Grayling may be safe. No trains now appear to be made up here.

 

4th June 2009: Baildon Moor, West Yorks

I hope, hope, hope, hope I am right. If so one can speak of hundreds of thousands Green Hairstreak caterpillars on the moor. Some clumps of bilberry are more favoured than others. But overall their presence creates the impression of pathogenic blight, the green bilberry leaves turning a rusty brown. And always, always, always it is the succulent new leaves, those at the very top of a bilberry shoot, the Green Hairstreak female chooses to lay her eggs on. Never but never, the branching leaves further down the stem. It is the very closeness of the budding greening leaves the butterfly chooses, the trifoliate arrangement at the top of each growing stem. These leaves also have a reddish tinge imparted by the anthocyanins. Perhaps the butterfly's chemo-receptors are responsive to the signals given off by those anthocyanins. Perhaps all this will help me observe the butterflies laying next year.

For the moment the larvae have no predators. However, when they are big enough to leave the nest they will become more vulnerable. Their chief predator the meadow pipit when they reach this stage. In June July the larvae may prove to be the pipits staple diet –breakfast, lunch, tea. If all these caterpillars were to reach the imago stage in one generation they would eat up Baildon Moor and there would be nothing left but bracken, grass and heather.

On the slopes around the golf course coming into Baildon, the number of 'autumnal' leaves declined, some clumps of bilberry entirely clear of the 'pest', others with just one or two withered leaves. Is it in the early stages of colonising this part of the moor? I was convinced I would find the majority of the caterpillars just below the rim of the bell pits. In this I was mistaken. In fact their greatest concentration appeared to be on clumps some yards from the bell pits. Nor did they thin out the higher I went up the moor. In fact I came away with the impression they were evenly distributed over the terrain, though less common on the lower slopes of the bell pits. Perhaps the lack of sunlight is the main reason for this? Though the butterfly is to be seen basking close to the bottom of the bell pits on cold, breezy days, these lower reaches are not favoured egg laying sites.

 

22nd June 2009: East Blean Woods, Canterbury, Kent

Much coppicing; many, many butterflies. As usual nature sprang a surprise on me and I ended up photographing Heath Fritillaries probing for salts on an old Tesco's "bag for life". And also, resting on David's fingers and climbing up his jeans on to his shirt then under his chin walking round to his back where the butterfly flew off on reaching his shoulder. There was an old cooking pan left behind from a barbecue. All this was inter acting with nature not just passive consumption.

The Heath Fritillary was roosting on bracken, hornbeam, bramble flower heads; also seemed to like roosting on false broom grass. They didn't go anywhere near cow wheat –it's foodplant – showed more interest in the fake broom grass. So when do they lay – in the morning? Though the butterflies were in abundance there were no mating pairs though there was plenty of courtship behaviour – at least what appeared to be courting!

Met a couple of naturalists from Yorkshire, one from Shipley the other from Baildon - they did not stay long in the coppice clearing. This is nature spotting not dissimilar to train spotting though lacking the open comradeship of the latter.

 

5th July 2009: Ashstead Common, Surrey

More White Admirals than I have ever seen. The woods have recently been coppiced for them. Arriving around 10 o clock at Rushett Lane they were in the secondary layer of the canopy, rarely coming down to nectar. The odd Silver Washed Fritillary – that golden flash against the dark olive green of the shadowy woodland is the most colourful contrast amongst butterflies. It is the something glowing in the dark, a tiger's eye of a butterfly, a burnished gold cup of a butterfly suddenly brought to light after being buried for centuries.

The Purple Emperors were flying. We think they were probably all males having been out only three or four days. They floated around trees, never chased, never intercepted – only later on in the day did they manifest more typical male behaviour. Resting at flag pond we noticed a couple of Purple Emperors. We thought we might have mistaken them for White Admiral but the flight pattern was different. Purple Emperors like to float; taking a few strokes of their powerful wings is all that is needed. The flight of the white admiral is agitated in comparison as they flap their wings vigourously.

We were lucky to find a sap bleed which the Purple Emperors were periodically visiting. However, they were not to be found on their usual oaks which are just down from the top oaks. These had somehow become gummed-up with a leaf fungus. No Purple Hairstreaks were to be seen on them neither. And presumably there were no aphids. The Purple Emperors would visit the bleed at regular intervals of about forty five minutes. Sometime two were to be seen on it whilst yet a third hovered around the branches. Approaching the bleed they would circle a number of times, perhaps checking out if it was safe to land. They would rarely land where the bleed was oozing sap. Instead they would approach it from an angle sometimes landing on the top of the bough then inching their way over the bark occasionally flashing open their wings perhaps to scare of flies, bees and wasps etc that are also attracted to the juice bar. The spreading leaf fungus must also have meant reserves of aphid honey dew were down.

For about two and a half hours after midday the Purple Emperors ceased to visit the sap bleed, perhaps because it was increasingly in the shade. They took to resting on the very top leaves and occasionally on the dead branches of an adjacent oak, the outlines of the butterflies silhouetted against the clear blue sky and the vapour trails left by jets on approaching Heathrow airport. The ever present sound of the chiffchaff and the ever present sounds of the jet engine –this today the social experience of many woodlands.

And three in the afternoon, Purple Emperors returned to feed on the sap bleed. This time it appeared to be only one that kept returning. I managed to fix up my powerful binoculars and place one of the lenses in front of the HD camcorder and then use the zoom control to get very close in footage. A phallic-like protuberance prevented me from getting photos of them feeding. All I was able to get was their dipping motion as the butterflies bent their head forward to get at the sap.

Also photographed a dying and dead oak tree bowl in the stark light. All sorts of shapes could be read in these ancient, bleached bowls – human faces, animal skulls with trunk-like snouts, a wooden coral sea of fossilised remains, lignite's having replaced calcite of arboreal jelly fish and sponges. This was better than Arthur Rackham because there was no comforting narrative accompaniment, no pandering to suburbia in the animal life of the forest. This was the free play of imagination.

 

22nd May 2009: Piece Hall, Halifax and Cliffe Castle Museum, Keighley, West Yorks

The industrial museum in the Piece Hall had closed twelve years ago. There is now a permanent stage set up in the Piece Hall originally erected for a scene in the film "Brassed Off". It is now a permanent feature. The Piece Hall is now more art conscious and boutique-y than ever before. There is a visitor's centre selling knock knacks and postcards, Pennine books and the bible in broad Yorkshire. The industrial museum must have been judged too shocking, its diorama and reconstructions old, cramped mining galleries and working class hovels off-putting and open sewers just too impolite for the tourists. Calderdale was hoping to attract professional tea rooms and art exhibitors.

The guy behind the jump in the tourist office claimed that he would be asked about the old museum at least once a week; its demise due to the fact the image it was marketing of the area was an unfavourable one. Yes I said it is all about marketing. The other shop assistant agreed saying Calderdale Council was looking at new ways of marketing the industrial museum. Though the industrial museum was not – and never could be – an accurate reflection of what happened in history what was on display could not be bought and sold. Virtually everything in the tourist information centre had a price tag on it. The museum had been replaced by a shop. The only past which now matters is that which can be marketed.

 

23rd May 2009: Ovendon Moor, West Yorks

Last time I was here was two years ago. I remember sitting beside the rough track and thinking of Lesley who would have thought it? The Green Hairstreaks the higher one got and the more exposed we became, were few and far between. My guess is they are just emerging on the high moors. However, the industrial workings like the small quarries are not sheltered on all sides. The bell pits where there is bilberry are surely the perfect habitats for the Green Hairstreak. The bell pits on Ovenden Moor were just minor depressions in the ground.

However I did become aware of how dependent the bilberry was on the old industrial workings. Generally bilberry does not like thicknesses of peat and can only be found on the side of tracks where the other was waterlogged. Peat can drain away. It could be said of Ovenden Moor that bilberry was a sure sign of former industrial workings. First of all the peat had to be dug through to the shale and clay thrown into mounds for the bilberry to take root. At the Withens Hotel the bilberry more or less stops. On the far side of Ovenden Moor looking towards Stoodley Pike there are still large expanses of wasteland that has never been enclosed. On these desolate, waterlogged flats (e.g. Filbelly Flat) the Angry Brigade let off rounds of ammunition from a machine gun.

The whole area is part of the broadest expanse of common land in West Yorkshire. From the vantage point of Withens Hotel one can see enclosure had crept up the moor.

 

24th May 2009: Baildon Moor, West Yorks

At first the Green Hairstreaks appeared to have gone – and one only – in a quarried part of the moor adjacent to the golf course. Arriving at the bell pit where I first saw eight in one and half square yards there were none to be seen. This was around midday. David ventured the opinion they had dispersed to other areas of the moor. As the day wore on and we began to find more and more Green Hairstreaks returning home as it were to the bell pits, I began to think he was right. By five in the afternoon every bell pit had at least a couple of Green Hairstreaks even other butterflies were attracted and I spent two or three minutes filming a small white as it helter- skeltered around the bell pits leaving only to return a short time later. It would then disturb a resting Green Hairstreak, which would then buzz the intruder.

Returning I was absolutely amazed to record three mating pairs of Green Hairstreaks. They were all somewhat dished and it is possible this was the second time around for the males. Though I had got a long shot on the Cannon camcorder unfortunately I did not get all three together on the HD camcorder. Green Hairstreaks have a tendency to pair off in the early evening. Why male selection should take place at this late hour is puzzling. Is the couple less likely to be disturbed and can carry on the courtship in peace now that the other males are basking on the tops of the bilberry their otherwise frenetic activity over for the day?

The couple that I did film more closely were distinctly coloured, one greener than the other – the female I presume. The wings on the male showed signs of iridescence. Baildon is unusually rich in butterflies. It hosts a tiny colony of Small Tortoiseshell, an increasing rarity these days. There are Whites and Orange Tips their food plant at this altitude is the lady's smock. There are skylarks, curlews and the occasional peep of the golden plover. I filmed a meadow pipit perched on a sprig of heather its head darting from side to side. In the absence of trees this must serve as a perch.

Baildon is an amenity moor dependent on the car. By 4 o clock the moor began to empty of people. Like all amenity parks it is ruled by the commonplace ritual. People also take their dogs their for a run-around. Part of Baildon has been allowed to regenerate itself hence the diversity of wild life. Today the whole place would have been destroyed because some of the great colliery spoil heaps – Frickley and Woolley – are nearly as large as Baildon. This must be emphasised on the film plus the arbitrary sounds of bird song, cars and motorbikes. The background sound must be increased without either over-riding the other.

 

July 7th, 2009: Keswick, Honister Pass, The Lake District, Cumbria

At first I thought the slate quarry was a working quarry. The idea of industry in these mountains; I liked the feel of industry that hung around the place; of machines, dumpers, hard hats. And yes, this was there but from being an industrial establishment producing slate for housing, it was now for decorative features, for gardens, fork handles, and worktops. From an essential building material, the slate had become a material for design obsessives. Slate shingle for gardens, lumps for fountains, designer megaliths, Stonehenges for suburbia. How seductive it is. Huge, unwanted slabs of the stuff standing against a shed door plied by a forklift truck; a huge iron-cutting wheel and leaning against this rusting circular saw blade were slabs of slate. Was this merely accidental or was it a work of art?

The old and new machinery: The miniature trucks that once would have been wound up the incline, rusting wheels broken. And a former steam engine now become a toy, the shed under which it is kept supported by slate cross beams. And all around the thud of genuine industry. Instead of going up to Drum House (in fact a bothy) we went where we were forbidden to go: Dale Head. From this vantage point I could see that the mountainside we were viewing across the path leading up to Fleetwith Pike had been a worked mountain. The signs of industry only added to its majesty; it was like an industrial Chicken Itza. Dale Head viewed from the opposite side of the Honister even more so. The stepped-down dry walling was like an industrial Mayan Temple, the angularities introduced into the mountainside by the winched railway was like living geometry. One side of this geometrical feature plunges down over, two acute angles tracking off; one following a slightly undulating course, the other declining – a straight acute angle.

And the mine at Dale Head. A triangular opening following the slate fissure – the bedding of the slate – a pit prop – white, ancient, three rusting nails at the top and beginning to rot. Inside the remains of a railway line, white lichen that shone with a phosphorescent light which on closer inspection turned out to be drops of water. Yet there was something very eerie and ghost-like about this lichen which needed light to photosynthesise. A few ferns likewise struggling within the gloom. What is this white lichen and the intense green lichen that spatters rocks? Protruding iron pipes and bars surrounded by cross-leaved heath. All, all, an uplifting experience; the rusting cable with wild thyme on either side; the great screes of mined slate. All this has been left alone.

Across the Honister mounted on a concrete base of a gun battery, a slate bed stone had engraved on it Kipling's most famous poem "IF". It should have ended "you'll be a man my son" but both the opening and ending had been removed - they clashed with political correctness!

A Damien Hirst lump of slate in formaldehyde / A De Stijl / Mondrian box in slate. A huge lorry arrived used normally for transporting cars loaded with massive pieces of slate bound for the Isle of Wight. It must have cost around £1000 to cart it.

 

July 9th 2009: Honister Pass. Fleetwith Pike & Brandreth plus part of the Grey Knott Ridge.

Surprising sprightly after two days of hard fell walking. Nearly nine hours sleep but that was all I needed. Passed the drum House up to Brandreth top; the sky overcast and cooler than the last two days. But it did not look likely Mountain Ringlet country. It seemed to us too windswept, cold, not enough cover. Nor was the ground boggy enough. We did find these conditions on top of Brandreth but the sky remained overcast and conditions generally very cool. The view over Haystacks and below Buttermere and Crummock Water -and to the side of Great Gable, Ennerdale Water. This view and the fact the Honister Rambler bus stops at the slate mine probably is the main reason, Butterfly Conservation has chosen this walk over that of the crest of the Wrynose Pass which is strictly for those with a car.

Dropping below Grey Notts seemed more promising. The sun came out and after eight or ten minutes I saw my first Mountain Ringlet. Probably a male, it patrolled a wide area rarely rising much above the grass. It settled continuously crash- landing on tormentil flowers. It would then feed frantically as if its life depended on it. Then it would take off investigating anything brown – just in case it was a female. When the sun went in I managed to get some close up shots with the small HD 163 camcorder. The darker the sky the deeper they bury into the grass. I did manage to get close-up shots of eye and feelers. During the filming the sun came up so I managed to get an entire sequence of the butterfly's head moving, then passing back getting a wing, then a little more – and then finally, the whole butterfly which then took off once the sun shone on it after a period of some thirty seconds. We moved further down the slope but did not find another Mountain Ringlet. Filming near the Drum House a bloke came up to ask if we were filming the Mountain Ringlet. Yes – but he had seen them on the slope just above Drum House around 11 30 am! I believe he mentioned seeing four. He took us to see where he had photographed one accidentally scuffing up a butterfly. I chased after it and marked it. He took some footage on a mini camcorder. I was able to take a shot I had hoped to take – that of a grounded mountain ringlet with a working quarry in the background – Hopper slate quarry. Over on the other side of the pass – The Levels – right up to the top of Dale Head.

I forgot I needed scissors so purchased a pair on returning to Keswick. The problem with automatic focussing is that I cannot over-ride it. But hopefully shall be able to do so tomorrow. There is a dismantled tramway from Dobs Quarry to Drum House and then on down to the ridge on the Honister Pass.

The Lake District is an extraordinarily friendly place; perhaps the friendliest place in England. It is more proley than in Wordsworth's time, split between rich and poor. Fell walkers have humanised the place, people who have long taken the decision not to consume.

Drum House: 500 feet higher than Stickle Tarn (1,100 feet?). Dale Head and Yew Crags quarries, Bell Crags on Fleetwith Pike, Honister Grag. Garthdale Beck on the Honister. Much spoil on the Honister; centuries old spoil. Met Manchester man on a powerful motorbike - he had an eye for spoil. Southerners never would; only those who have made an effort to study landscape. A Japanese girl in flip flops with wheely luggage asking where the car park is on the top of Helvellyn!!!

 

July 10th 2009: The Honister Pass, Cumbria

It promised to be a fine day. Turned out fucking awful. Met two butterfly enthusiasts on Fleetwick near Drum House. Neither was part of a group like Butterfly Conservation. They were just enthusiasts. One, from Wolverhampton was the most persistent. He stayed whilst the other, from Somerset legged it back to the slate mine to see if his mother was all right stuck in a car. In fact they were both odd balls, neither married. Wolverhampton man was in the Caravan Club but never went to their rallies. He was very adamant about this. Both were very friendly, shaking hands etc. Wolverhampton man shook hands with David after he managed to get a photo of a Mountain Ringlet. Other very curious people came up to us. A couple knew what we were looking for. Definitely awareness of butterflies has increased.

Finally the crowds parted and we did see three Mountain Ringlets. Two were very dished. The first headed for the dense matt of nardus strictus grass next to Drum House. Was it looking for a female as that is where they are to be found? The males are very wide ranging – hardly territorial at all. But beyond this these minor observations I have nothing much to add. Better luck next year!

The man from Glastonbury in Somerset said he had recently taken a photo of a Large Blue female egg-laying in early June. It had been dismissed by Butterfly Conservation even though the date was on the digital photo. But as the guy said, seeing he had no profile his accurate observation had been dismissed! Sounds about right!

Colonised by TVs and computers, The Lakes reinstated direct human contact. It all adds to its other-worldliness. And one feels a pang on leaving The Lakes like leaving a loved one. People go to The Lakes to view not to consume. The mountain landscape cannot be bought. We must rethink Wordsworth and pantheism. The brief relationships so characteristic of the Lakes; the brief love affairs that will always be remembered even if it amounted to no more than a touch. The chat room cant cannot do that. If these relationships were to develop they would founder instantly. They only contain possibilities and for that reason more remembered – more real.

 

22nd July 2009: Healey Mills Marshalling Yards, Horbury, West Yorks.

The Grayling needs the rolling stock and old diesel engines awaiting scrapyard death. As a result of tearing up the railway lines and taking up the old sleepers the butterflies have also become de-industrialised reverting back to the birch origins. Where the rolling stock and trains are still parked there also are to be found the Grayling. In this place spent engines have remade themselves becoming silent ovens radiating heat, which attracts the Grayling. The torn up areas once the centre of the grayling appear to be almost denuded of them. Once it became grassed over and a few birch trees appear they might well be back. Saw a female Grayling testing out likely egg-laying sites. It projects its body forward. However that does not necessarily mean it then lays an egg. It even tried out a dead blade of grass but quickly withdrew its body. The clumps of sheep fescue it tested out were similar to those in the New Forest. However, on inspection I did not find a single egg. Met Simon Bell of the Bristol-based BBC Film Unit.

Cheered up a little after the visit to Shipley station yesterday when I was disappointed by the failure of my seeding to take hold. The ground is too rich to suite bird's foot trefoil.

 

25th July 2009: Healey Mills Marshalling Yards again

The rain over the last few days has been atrocious. The sudden decline in Grayling numbers is very drastic. We searched for a long time before we found our first grayling. David thought it disoriented as if its life had lost meaning because it was not longer functioning as part of a colony. Its role has gone, whether male or female and was simply flitting about desultorily between now and dying, its life rendered biologically meaningless. Returning to the haven we did eventually see a Grayling. And I got the shot I wanted of a female Grayling protruding its body forward testing for literally egg laying sites. Most amazing it appears they could be laying on hardcore or dry bits of grass scattered amongst the hardcore....Perhaps we have found an egg laying site.

The fact that the jet stream has moved south for the third year running may eventually prove fatal for the Grayling in the yards. It is our contention that the Grayling settled on the hardcore and then were literally drowned by the downpour unable to move and find shelter. They were pounded to death by raindrops, the driving rain hitting their bodies like a never-ending series of punches. Out in the open they were literally beaten to death. This is now a very stressed colony with only a short time left. (Altercation on buses)!
A dream

The boss (headmaster) at Ripon Grammar School became a sink worktop. I hacked at him (it) with an axe. Wondered how he could be so composed at being cut down. Yet he would be watching all the time......... What prompted this dream/ the nature metaphors of beech combing and dead stumps of oaks and the symbolists' revival of anima? Does this idea of a living earth ever really go? And my still continuing animus to the boss at Ripon is that not also a social relationship? "Economic categories are nothing but the expression, the abstractions of the social relations of production".

 

17th August 2009

On coming back from Healey Mills I noticed the decay in the centre of Dewsbury, (the old Co-op etc). I thought of making a film: "Ruin not Architecture"- a residue from the botanising of the day before in my dream as I was seeing gutters close to full of weeds and other plants? To do this I had used my 200mm lens. So several levels were at work and yet it also had a critical level. I needed the classifiers to identify the 'weeds', which would in turn compel broader questions. This dream was a form of insight. I was aware the guttering was framed like a picture. However, it was more like Malevich's "White on White" than a painting. – I was aware of that even when asleep. The lens was more like an LED screen, and yet it was more than that also – what I was seeing was not just mere representation but revolutionary possibility.

The Grayling were dished and few in number; unable to find an egg. The nipped stalks of fescue whose pearl coloured ends resemble a grayling egg, have had the tops of the stalks eaten by rabbits. How many go down a rabbit's gullet? On the other hand if the eggs are laid on rocks and dried straw they are not eaten. Moreover the heat incubates the eggs.

 

23rd August 2009: Bradford, West Yorks

Saw a male Common Blue at the end of Graham St on Green Lane just off Leeds Rd near Laisterdyke. Hopped around on the grass verge briefly settling down on some loose bits and some blue tissue paper before flying off over the wall. Checked for trefoil in the gardens of St Peter's but couldn't find any. Where had the butterfly come from?

 

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