The Year of the White Letter

     (An Urban Hairstreak) 

Freewheeling reflections on finding the White letter Hairstreak in considerable abundance in the Bradford Metropolitan District of West Yorkshire           

  Jeremy Thomas says the White Letter Hairstreak chiefly feeds on honeydew and that to see one on a thistle is a rare event. Well, I have the feeling this is no longer quite the case and that to find White Letters nectaring on bramble, thistle, rose bay willow herb and even ragwort is less uncommon than it once was - not to mention that it is more of a garden butterfly than previously. I saw a number in gardens in Bramhope (a posh dormitory village between Leeds and Otley) buzzing around middling elms and surprised one on a window box in Ireland Terrace in Bingley possibly feeding on lobelia or even geranium.






 Top Left: White Letter on ragwort. Hollins Hill, Otley Rd, Bradford, 23/07/2010    Top Right: White Letter on thistles. Stanley Way, Bolton Woods, Bradford, 21/07/2010


 Fading White Letters on thistles. Top Right: Judy Woods, Bradford. 24/07/2010           Top Left: Ben Rhydding, shored up railway embankment. 07/08/2010


There has been a change of 'life-style', this born again butterfly having little choice but to exchange the high life for the low life and settle for elms that have yet to reach 50 ft whereas half a centuru ago they would regularly tower to over 120 ft. more grounded than since  'the elm decline" of a century of 4000 BC when half the elms in Europe vanished, the butterfly must also, in just over three decades, have become more visually attuned to inflorescences and picking up scent molecules; a patch of thistles for all their sharp prickles can be alluringly aromatic.

Jeremy Thomas categorically says the butterfly overwhelmingly prefers Wych elm, an observation I would agree with from my own experience. However essentially he sees the butterfly as a butterfly of the open country, certainly not one that has even begun to venture into urban spaces, favouring "sunny edges of woods and the occasional hedgerow tree" never flying very far, a sedentary butterfly in fact. No doubt he would be a surprised as I was to find them in discontinuous, ribbon colonies that leap frog from one to another of the still youthful elms growing haphazardly alongside roadside verges, like on the choking A660 ("The Highway to The Lakes") from where the road climbs the Chevin crossing Poole Bank to where the elms run out the other side of Bramhope toward Leeds. (Emmett/Heath specifically say the butterfly occurs "in discrete, sometimes very small colonies").Thomas would be even more surprised to find it becoming an habitué of industrial infrastructure rather than lanes and field margins, shadowing roadways, canals and railways and appearing in makeshift car parks (as in Little Horton) and on industrial wastes where factories have been raised leaving only their nature convivial foundations, the Wych elm(are the seeds only windborne?) rapidly taking root alongside that other even more opportunistic colonizer, the buddleia.



          The meta-population of Bradford’s White Letter Hairstreak 



       Top Right: Lighting the way, Cunliffe Lane, Esholt. Bradford 23/07/2010                     Top Left: A warrening Cunliffe Lane of hundreds of White Letter Hairstreaks.   


This born again butterfly is in the process of becoming more of an urban butterfly but not a park butterfly which could change if areas are left for nature to take over from ghastly, eye candy, bedding plants councils are still addicted to. If the butterfly is eventually to come into Horton Park, Manningham Park and Peel Park in Bradford, horticultural regime change is essential.

The spread of the White Letter Hairstreak, in my frank opinion, has to do with the elm finding its 'autonomy' and asserting its independence in defiance of its sick stereotyping. The now excluded, marginalized elm for the first time in three centuries is really coming into its own – and bringing an elusive butterfly with it. In the 18th century the elm proliferated as enclosure gathered pace and the open fields of the Commons were enclosed with mainly hawthorn hedges. However landowners insisted tenant farmers planted elms at intervals to provide timber which belonged to the landowners when these quick growing trees were felled, producing timber bigger than oak. The fate of the English elm in particular is also an argument against the risks of cloning and the vulnerability of genetically uniform clones to disease, for it was the English elm that was chiefly decimated by the Dutch elm disease appearing in the mid 1960s and which did away with some ten million trees in Britain. The seeds of the English elm are infertile (unlike those of the Wych elm), the tree reproducing by sending up suckers. In the new fangled arboreal nurseries of the 18th century, cloned elms became a symbol of ownership and boundary limits, the mercantile/landed aristocracy favouring a particular brand to distinguish one estate from another, all elms on one estate looking much like another but differing to the trained eye from those of a neighbouring estate. Elms also became an emblem of agricultural improvement, both an aesthetic and value added argument against the economic 'wastefulness' of common land.

Revolting against the designed, stifled naturalness of the parklands of the ancien regime, the elm in Constable's paintings becomes the noble savage amongst trees, the nave-like appearance of the East Anglian elms (no 'truth to nature' here) that frame, and diminish, the spire of Salisbury cathedral, higher in meaning and aspiring to a greater heaven than that of established religion. These elms are also like two lovers leaning over to give each other a kiss. Beginning to run riot, the elm was escaping ownership, sometimes occurring in densities of over 1000 per sq kilometre. But nowhere do we learn if the White Letter followed suit, attention to the mapping of the geographical distribution of butterflies still many decades away, and beside which many had yet to be named, rendering glancing historical records doubtful to say the least.

Nor can we rule out 'imperial preference' and an increased reliance on imported foodstuffs in the natural history of the White Letter. Oliver Rackham points out that the years 1870/1950 "were years of agricultural adversity when farmers allowed young trees, especially elms, to grow up". Manufactured materials were, in any case, being substituted for wood, and the many uses to which elm used to be put, replaced by corrosion resistant concrete, steel and plastic. So the elm was simply left to grow - until felled by the scotylid beetle, the burrowing bark-angel of the CAP food security leading to Food Mountains following World War Two. Once a hallmark of 'improved' agriculture and planted in their hundreds of thousands, the felling of sickly elms provided a guilt free rationale for the energy intensive, green revolution, horizonless acres of corn land, for example, replacing the richly hedged countryside.1950 marks a second maximum in the number of farmland tress but thereafter hedges were massively grubbed out with the spread of intensive - and extensive - cultivation. Any hedges that were left were subject to yearly strimming, the close cropping of field margins and weed genocide, the general tidying up of the countryside and roadside verges, a symptom of the pathological fear nature left to find its own way was beginning to arouse, deathly garden centre horticulture replacing what was good about the bio-diverse, anarchic English country garden of myth and song.

Doing the rounds in West Yorkshire from mid June to mid August 2010 it was roads, railways and canals that drew me, my eye only rarely picking out a promising elm in a distant hedge back. Now why were they here in an otherwise elm-less landscape? In the case of roads, as along the A660 from Leeds to Kendal, was it the effect of enclosure, the conquest of the modern road network approximating, if at all feasible, the undeviating axioms of Euclidean geometry? When the majority of these roads were 'unnaturally' cut into the terrain, the elm was still in vogue as a marker, a boundary-tree. The same goes for canals and railways, their proliferation dependent on the Wych elm's windborne seeds and not just suckers sent up from the roots of felled trees, the Wych elm becoming by far the dominant elm in West Yorkshire.



                     (The West Yorks Elm Diaspora, Part 1) 




 Top Left: Railway Hairstreaks, Esholt, Bradford/Ilkley line, 23/07/2010                       Top Right: Roadside Wych elm, Hebden Bridge, West Yorks 26/09/2010  


Top Right: The Highway to The Lakes, Otley, West Yorks. 11/07/2010                            Top Left: Wych elm, Calder tributary, Luddenden Foot, Halifax. 26/07/2010


More resistant to attack than the English elm, the Wych elm nonetheless did not escape devastation, leading to curious abnormalities of growth. Looking for the White Letter in Heaton Woods in Bradford (and I am convinced, if I could rise above the canopy, I would see many more White Letters gambolling about than the few I glimpsed trying to pierce the gloom from the ground), I strayed onto Shay Lane where it descends and bends dog-leg fashion dividing Heaton woods from Cliff Woods. Both sides of the road were bordered with elms and climbing a bankside and stooping low beneath the crinolines of translucent elms leaves, which helps one pick out the silhouettes of White Letter larvae, I had the strange sensation of entering a green room, like I had sank beneath the waves. Was it some petrified experimental sea monster new to science I saw before me, still clinging to its coral death bed? In fact it was the stump of a Wych elm, in the initial stages of rotting into a figment of the unbridled imagination, the coral merely layers of exposed coaly shale reminding me I was at the furthest limits of the outcropping Silkstone coal seam which had powered the early stages of the industrial revolution in these parts and given rise to the biggest industrial spoilscapes the world had ever seen up to that time. These stumps-for there were a few of them-had sent up still healthy suckers and I wondered how long they would stay that way, for the incidence of secondary growth I believe to be quite rare in West Yorkshire. Highway maintenance workers would have hewn down these elms several decades ago in the interests of health and safety, for as the old ditty went elm 'hateth man' on account of its tendency to shed branches without warning. Today, above all else, it is passing traffic, particularly cars that were at risk, Dutch elm disease exacerbating the existing hazards of elm. In fact the tunnelling effect of elm had been greatly prized in street planting, the elm's tolerance of air pollution an additional commendation.

Occasionally I came across stands of English elm during my quartering of the Bradford Metropolitan District. Two in particular, one close to Addingham the other in Menston, caught my eye because, stare as I might though on not very good days, I could find no evidence of the White Letter, no nibbled top leaves or hover flies which, I have found, invariably 'herald' the presence of the butterfly. Nor did I find a single diseased young Wych elm, though from time to time I did notice a small branch with shrivelled, autumnal leaves. By the side of the railway that runs from Ilkley to Menston, I chanced upon a Wych elm and an English elm growing in close proximity to each other, one diseased and all but shorn of its yellowing leaves, its twigs turning up like a shepherd's crook at the end, the other in rude health. I forgot to check if the English elm was a sucker but for sure the beetle had not spread to the other Wych elms.

When finally I left West Yorkshire to journey south on the M1 at the end of the butterfly's flight period, I spent the entire 4 ½ hours eyeballing the motorway verges, my head moving from right to left, up and down then over my shoulder in an elm spotting frenzy. The clumps of English elms began just as we came into Sheffield to one side of a site that specialised in renting out cranes. It would be nice to think the White Letter is present here but I doubt it, the butterfly now overwhelmingly preferring the Wych elm, which also does not crowd to anything like the same degree as the English elm. Clusters of English elm become more frequent south of Sheffield and beyond, the Wych elm an increasingly uncommon sight. A notable stand of regenerating English elms extends over 100 yards just outside the Harthill service station, just south of the nature-mocking Kiveton Park spoilheap makeover. But don't hold your breath in the expectation of seeing Hairstreaks, for the leaves show no sign of ever having been eaten. Sometimes the elms formed immature coppices and everywhere the ravages of the Dutch elm disease were visible, whole coppices of regenerating elm sometimes little more than twisting spears of dead timber thrusting into the sky, sickly leaves turned yellow and brown about to drop from the dying, curled up branches, all that's left of the increasingly meagre foliage. Go off the motorway in Herts and it is the same story, but with hedges in the distance punctuated with tapering dead and dying suckers, a grim reminder of the virulence of the disease.

Jeremy Thomas notes that at one time the butterfly "was especially common throughout the Midlands". Does this mean that formerly the English elm was also a food plant of choice along within that of the Wych elm, or that the Wych elm was once as common in the Midlands and south as it now is in West Yorkshire? Or could it be that in response to the Dutch elm disease, the butterfly has opted for the Wych elm because of its greater resilience to the disease? The genetically diverse strains of Wych elms, propagated through cross-pollinated seeds, now appearing everywhere in West Yorkshire may have developed some kind of immunity, unlike the genetically uniform English elms that produce sterile seeds. They don't cluster to anything like the same degree as the suckering English elm, though having found one; invariably others will be found within the vicinity, giving rise to tree hopping, ribbon colonies of the butterfly. Though the records are not yet in, but bearing in mind there are tens of thousands of the butterfly in West Yorkshire (and doubtless many tens more waiting to be discovered), the possibility the sub-county is displacing the Midlands and the south-east as the site of butterfly's meta-population may not be as farfetched as it sounds!

The singularity of the Wych elm as compared with that of the huddling English elm may act as a deterrent to attacks by the elm bark beetle. The scotylid beetle is a carrier of ambrosia fungus spores that, once established on the dead and dying wood of the elm tree, releases a communication chemical alpha-cubebene that acts as a rallying signal, causing the beetle to come scurrying in from far and wide to aggregate around the diseased trees, thus releasing yet more spores (dehydrated lunch packs in a manner of speaking), the fungus making the main course of decaying wood easier to nibble with a side plate of particularly nutritious 'ambrosia'. It is a beautiful example of a symbiotic relationship, though in the end, not unlike cancer, the association between beetle and fungus destroys the host giving them life. Whilst out searching for the White Letter in Victoria Park just across the railway bridge from Raw Nook in Bradford, I came across a hewn elm trunk lying alongside other, chiefly sycamore, tree trunks. I can't say if it was Wych, Dutch or English elm, for all three elms were present in the park. The bark had long since gone, exposing the countless galleries left by the elm beetle larvae. The trunk would have been writhing with them not that long ago. This harrowed trunk graphically brought home to me the concealed aetiology of the disease that only later becomes visibly manifest in the autumnal appearance of the tree in full summer. Then finally all that is left is a bleached, decayed molar of a tree that was once a common and majestic tree, renowned throughout Europe for its rapid growth and variety of foliage and form.

I can't help feel we are looking at, if not at a new butterfly, then one that has renewed itself, is exploring new terrain and of great interest therefore.




The above is a far-ranging text first mooted as a letter about the White Letter Hairstreak to be sent to Susan at Bradford urban Wildlife Group




 Top left: Scotylid Beetle. Top Right: Diseased elm & Caucasian Elm, Killinghall Rd, Bradford East, West Yorks 24/9/2010 





 Top Left: Scotylid beetles on English elm 4/9/2010.  Top Right: Scotylid beetle galleries, Victoria Park, Low Moor, Bradford, West Yorks. 4/9/2010





 A West Yorks Elm Disapora. Part 2

(White Letter Hairstreak Sites) 


Top Right: Cropped Wych elm by side of gas pipe Rochdale Canal, 26/07/ 2010 Top Right: Capped ventilation shaft, Stanley Way, Bolton Woods, Bradford 21/07/2010


Top Right: Drained reservoir with elms, St Ives Estate, Bingley, West Yorks. 9/08/2010  Top Left: English elms on spoil, Drighlington Moor. How did they get here? Bradford, West Yorks. 4/09/2010



 Top Right: Classical portico of old mill with elm, Rochdale Canal, Mytholmyroyd, Halifax, West Yorks, 26/07/2010. Top Left: Bus stop White Letter Hairstreaks, Branhope circular (Bradford/Leeds). 11/07/2010



Top Right: House, elm, hairstreaks, police, Bramhope near Leeds. 11/07/2010.             Top Left: Opportunist Wych elm, Shipley, West Yorks. 4/09/2010


Top Right: Fugitive Wych elm on sterilised building site, Denholme, West Yorks. .........  Top Left: Heaton Woods, Bradford and a White Letter canopy. 29/07/2010 



Top Right: Former spoil heap. Wyke, Big colony of w-album. 24/07/2010                       Top Left: The same. An industrialised rail embankment, Ben Rhydding, 07/08/2010 


 Top Right: Giant Wych elm leaves, Bingley. 09/07/2010                                                  Top Left: Abandoned filling station with elms, Addingham, near  Ilkley. 28/07/2010 


 Top Right: Elms with hairstreaks, Alf Suffa Mosque, Gt Horton, Bradford 20/07/2010 Top Left: Wych elm, boarded-up pub, Mytholmyroyd, West Yorks. 26/09/2010 



Further general reflections on the Elm and the White Letter



On John Clare, The Fallen Elm, anti-punctuation, Symbolism, ruminations on the reduction to the LETTER, genesis of the name White Letter Hairstreak?                                           

 (Around the mid 1820s John Clare (photo left) wrote “The Fallen Elm”. The tree had stood outside the family cottage near Peterborough for as long as he could remember. Now homeless due to enclosure, “comforts cottage was thrust aside” and the elm felled. Clare was in the same position as the tree just as I, in the summer of 2010, saw myself in the now fugitive Wych elm. A pariah amongst trees, it had also brought back a butterfly from the dead, just as I tried to keep alive the dream of a total revolutionary transformation of the world. We learn from Clare that nature had claimed the elm as “her domestic tree”: an elm rises over Willy Lot’s cottage in Constable’s “Haywain”. Besides noting that the tree provides shade (for children to make “their playhouse rings of sticks and stones” rather than for  the usurping herds of grazing animals that replaced the singular animals of  the open field system), Clare does not say if, looking high up into the elm tree, he had seen little butterflies dancing there. They could only have been the White Letter. Around the same time he makes notes on the Tiger Beetle for a natural history of Helpston (and not published until 1983) in which he was to take leave of poetry: when dealing with nature, poets and the consumers of poetry, were not to be trusted: “The vulgar [by which Clare meant country folk] are always the best glossary to such thing”. His journals begin to fill up with natural history notes and emptied of observations on a literary world still then worth commenting on, Clare vaguely grasping it was becoming drained of meaning before its time. Rejecting the convention of poetry anthology and scientific field notes before it was to become habitual, Clare in his ‘madness’ would forget he had even been a poet. Incarcerated in an asylum he was asked about it in 1843: “Oh, poetry, ah, I know. I once had something to do with poetry: but I was no good”. He was ‘no good’ because he was more than a poet and in this respect inherited the mantel of Shelley and Byron. In an attempt to make flesh Byron’s essential essence as athlete, man of action and womaniser rather than ‘straw’ poet, he opted to call himself ‘Boxer Byron” wanting the asylum directors to fix him up with “a good man with the courage to fight me”.        

   In fact Clare would look upon his domestic elm with an intensity only someone who has grown up with it could know. It was more than poetry, this “music making” elm “that murmured in our chimney pot” owning “a language by which hearts are stirred/deeper than by a feeling clothed in words". Come the late 19th century and Clare would be claimed for symbolism. Arthur Symons, author of “The Symbolist Movement in Literature”, (appearing in typically laggard English fashion in 1899), noted in 1908, that Clare’s scripts were unpunctuated and saw this as an anticipation of Mallarme rather than a symptom of a poor education. I have had cause to wonder if  the name of the White Letter Hairstreak, settled on in the early years of the 20th century (the scientific name "w-album" means white letter) also reflected the enthusiasm for linguistics, De Saussurian and otherwise, then sweeping Europe. The return of the Roman phonetic alphabet to a more pictorial idiom sketched by Mallarme had been partly influenced and then adroitly exploited by advertising, the concrete poetry of the commodity. Concealed beneath the surface of the butterfly and tree were all sorts of other shapes and meanings and which became more real the deeper I became immersed in them. 


The Wych elm and West Yorks sites of industrial dereliction 




 Top Right: Abandoned foundry, White Letter site, Bingley, West Yorks. 09/08/2010       Top Left: Promontory of former foundry. 09/08/2010 


 Top Right: A White Letter site near Bingley town centre. 06/08/2010                             Top Left: Abandoned farm buildings, back of Bingley Grammar School. 31/07/2010 

    Paradoxically, the elm was to find an ‘elm refuge’ in the overlooked domain of functioning industrial infrastructure and not just on the inviting wastes of industrial dereliction where they have also found a home - for instance across the Aire just down from Ireland Terrace in Bingley amongst the marvellous remains of a former foundry, brightly coloured wooden patterns that once would have been pressed into sand, catching the eye from beneath the undergrowth, one discarded  on a concrete  slab like a child’s off-beat paint box. Excited at having discovered the White Letter there, the wrecked topography of the factory, including a salient from which silver birches were growing, lent a back story to the scene we struggled to reconstruct and which added to our sense of wonder because the original features  had so metamorphosed over time to  suggest  new possibilities for living. This ‘something else’ factory, divested of its former function, had come alive and was the perfect foil   for this reinvented butterfly and tree. Our efforts  to rebuild, in our minds eye, the  original features of this derelict building, benefited from being  amateurish because they gave freer rein to an imagination so lacking in conventional industrial archaeology which seeks to neutralize history, and its promise, by preserving the past in aspic. 

   I wait the glad day when I shall find a colony of White Letters on Wych elms pushing up through the foundations of demolished and abandoned mills where they can even take root in the accumulated dust from passing traffic.There are enough promising site for instance  by the roadside  between Hebden Bridge and Halifax where, leaning over the wall that separated the road from the canal, I found sizeable Wych elms growing from between the masonry  of the containing wall. 


Property and the police mind, the product of enclosure. The destruction of communal agriculture and a way of walking 

(Looking for the White Letter on the immature elms, I attracted a good deal of hostile attention. The command ‘this is private property’ rang in my ears and I was close to exploding. On the very day (July 10th 2010) I learnt how to look for the butterfly, I was confronted by an obnoxious small holder in a four wheel drive who had illegally seized a public right of way, claiming it was his property. Recalling the day I had last climbed Poole Bank in Wharfedale before the turn of the millennia and being struck by the amount of elms, I decided to give it a go and see if this time I could find this much under-recorded butterfly. Within minutes of arriving I was rewarded with a sighting and from then on it was like heaven. Every elm on Poole Bank - and there are many – hosted a little colony of White Letters. But what were they nectaring on? I needed to get behind the imposing Victorian houses and deep wooded ravine that ran along opposite sides of the road to see if I could find nectar sources. I was then I encountered Wharfedale Man, a species new to science and predating the Neanderthals. After a sharp exchange I decided to pull rank and lie. “I’m from the Wharfedale Naturalists” I said “whose patron is the Duke of Devonshire”. His demeanour instantly changed and if I had then demanded a blow job he might well have obliged. His subservience only made me loathe Poole all the more: the last time I was in Poole in the late 1990s I had been threatened with the police for venturing onto a vacant lot to look for Ringlets which were then just finding their way up the Wharfe valley.

   Rereading the entry in my diary for this day July 10th 2010, an entire page is taken up with a rant against Poole. Everything comes within range from these dumb Poole  jack-asses not knowing the  inscription “Avenue des Hirondelles” carved on the triumphal gate of a Victorian mansion on Poole bank translates as “Swallow Drive” to how I yearned for a Sherman tank to blast shit out of  the place.   

   How could a person of my age looking fixedly into trees have possibly constituted a threat? And yet I did. Had I stood on a pavement for hours on end staring at the price tags in a shop window I would have gone unnoticed. The White Letter, on the contrary, was beyond price and therefore an unknown quantity and, because valueless, to be derided and feared. It was not merely my air of complete absorption  but my  anomalous body  movements that were suspect, from standing still craning my neck and looking up into trees, to walking along grass verges, even  pavements, by the side of busy roads. Some drivers would deliberately startle me and maliciously honk their horns, particularly when, scanning the tops of elms, I had become lost to the world. A few even gave me the V sign, which I found very disturbing, and I would gladly have  punched them in the face had they dared stop, I  was so angry. Was I disrespecting the car and every other convention that went with owning a car? I certainly felt every conceivable grievance was being projected onto my lone figure by people who had been totally fucked over and didn’t have a clue as to why. And so I nearly jumped out of my skin when, in the car park of the Golden Acre reserve between Leeds and  Bramhope, a driver out of  genuine  curiosity  touched me on the shoulder and asked what was I looking at.   

      On account of reasons like these I became doubly appreciative of John Clare’s observations on the way enclosure changed deportment altering the way entire populations moved, human as well as natural.….Separated by a gap of close on 200 years we were both at loggerheads with capitalism and opposed to the way it was, and is, shaping ‘human’ responses at nature’s increasingly vast cost as well as ours. Clare did not have a name for it whereas we do. 

      The open field space that Clare knew as a child was circular rather than linear and, up to a point, belonged to everyone. Ruthlessly curbing the right to roam by restricting rights of way, parliamentary enclosure staked out major and minor roads, maps enumerating the ownership of every acre and position of every road, footpath and drain. Fences, gates and no trespassing signs went up and streams straightened to accord with the new geometry of ownership. Clare “dreaded walking where there was no path and always feared the owner coming by”. Turning the tables on his misfortune and thus scoring a victory, he consoled himself that in his propertyless state he never felt alone. However it was the townie William Blake that would immeasurably deepen the opposition to enclosure, providing it with a dimension that since the Civil War of the 1640s had got lost in bawdy restoration comedy: “improvement makes straight roads; but the crooked roads without improvement are the roads of genius. Sooner murder an infant in its cradle than nurse unsatisfied desire. Where man is not nature is barren”. Here Blake sees that the destruction of communal agriculture also brings with it the impoverishment of nature. Living in the smoky heart of  the world’s  biggest city, amazingly he  mentally grasps what Clare lived,  namely that in the field without hedges there was an equilibrium between  nature and man and that to separate the one from the other is a nonsensical undertaking. However things cannot rest here and there is to be no return to the status quo for communal tillage (i.e. shorthand for communism in everything else) can be the only basis on which the imperative urge to fulfilment is to be realised.  In grounding nature’s overflowing abundance and the realization of desire in social production; no one has excelled Blake who lived the industrial revolution in the decay of his craft, whereas other romantics merely bemoaned it from a distance. 


OS Map: Nature as an extension of shopping. For the White Letter “the map is not the territory”……..


     OS maps began life in 1808 when a couple of military surveyors set out to measure the landscape with a theodolite, chain and a couple of poles. The decisive factor was the Napoleonic Wars but behind this cartographical preparation for empire, when Britain became “the despot of the world market”, lay the threat of uprising by a nascent industrial proletariat and commoners forced off of the land. In the paragraphs above on enclosure, I hint at the possibility of a relationship between map making and how people move through space. Mechanical trajectories increasingly replace a more rounded, and rolling, apprehension of space, causing our sensory world to become ever more impoverished. As the way we move comes under increased surveillance, the body conspiracy against impermissible movement mounts. At times I felt my ‘strange’ behaviour was inviting arrest (and not just when I was conscious of being stared at behind lace curtains) and that any moment the police would arrive. We once had a term – reification - that would cover this body conditioning, but no more. We need to debrief our eyes, head, neck, arms and legs and challenge the way shoppers project themselves through space, following the line of shop fronts like an inertial force. Oblivious to others, a 60 year old has to give way to a 16 year old whose sight is only trained on shop window displays five or more of them, women as well as men, and it is like encountering a military detail bent on conquest. Amongst other things, it is a major reason why they can’t see nature.      

     And yet paradoxically it was precisely along OS grids, in the absence of  which the infrastructure of roads, canals and railways would have been nigh impossible to construct, that I found the White Letter. The question then must be asked why it has taken so long to find them here, and in such numbers. Is it not also because nature has increasingly become a shop window, an extension of the high street even the internet, CGI replacing the real thing? We no longer go looking for nature; we shop for it in pretty places that have been environmentally manicured. As we shifted from an industrial economy  to one more and more based on services, nature has increasingly become a shop window, an extension of the high street even the internet, CGI, at the furthest extreme, replacing species lost to extinction events with creatures of its own devising.  

    Out prospecting for the White Letter in places that were reasonably familiar to me I had the sensation I was seeing and experiencing things for the first time, and that I had not been here before. This perceptual awakening gave a new perspective, and point of view, to the derive maxim “the map is not the territory” for it was like entering a new, yet at the same time, familiar world. It was familiar to me because I was accustomed to viewing it through a window as I passed through it, similar to the way I would view specimens behind a glass case in a museum. The last thing I was doing was engaging with it. Once I stepped off the bus along roads choked with traffic, the display cabinet was shattered. This happened to me on the day following my discovery of the butterfly on the elms that ran along both sides of Poole Bank. Returning I noticed as I crossed the “Highway to The Lakes”, which I had travelled along countless times, that it was also lined with young elms and therefore worth a closer look. I went back the very next day (11th July 2010), counting easily in excess of 60 from the Dynley Arms on Otley Chevin to the other side of Bramhope where the elms gave out. My memories of that break-through day is also marked by the din of passing traffic and I found I was doing a wishful count parallel to that of the transect, craving just 30 seconds of relief from the sound of passing traffic which I have come to associate with this changeful butterfly, at least in its maximal densities in West Yorkshire. Returning one night I read how each silent electric car might  eventually be equipped with a customised “ring tone” to warn pedestrians of the approaching dangers and how the steady drone of traffic would be leavened by this “art experience”. If I was mad now I would be sent madder still was this ever to become a reality. Though the White Letter Hairstreak might survive it, I doubt if I would. 


By: Stuart Wise

November 2010



                                  Larval tell-tales of the White Letter Hairstreak                          

          Otley Road, Bradford, West Yorks 19/07/2010      




 White Letter Hairstreak discoveries in the

BradfordMetropolitan District, West Yorks in 2010: (35 entries

in consecutive order according to date seen)


1)      10th July 2010: Poole Bank (19+).


2)      11th July 2010 Poole Bank: (Dyneley Arms car park (2). A660 through Bramhope  to Golden Acre Park where elms gave out (60+).


3)      19th July2010: Two fields up from Denso Marsten by side of Otley Rd (8+). 3 more in fields and by side of Aire. Midway Hirst Wood/Aqueduct, Leeds Liverpool canal (3).


4)      20th July 2010: Brackenhill, behind Tesco superstore, Gt Horton (3). Junction of Horton Park Rd/Laisterridge Lane on the corner of the ‘notorious’ Canterbury Estate (3), feeding on nectar sources in grounds of unfinished Al Suffa mosque on site of former Thornton/Haworth railway.


5)      21st July 2010: Kings Drive, Bolton (3). Back of Drovers Way (1). Junction of Stanley Rd/Poplars Park Rd, Bolton Woods (3).


6)      23rd July 2010: Hollins Hill, Junction of Station Rd, Esholt, opposite side (5).Cunliffe lane to Esholt 40+). Junction of Coach Rd/Otley Rd, Shipley, around advertising hoardings (2).


7)      24th July 2010. Judy Woods, Horse Close Bridge, site of Judy North’s ‘pleasure garden’ and cottage (8+). Station Rd, Wyke feeding on Rose Bay Willow Herb (1), Wyke bank, Wyke Beck (10+).


8)      27th July 2010: Odsal Woods (10+).


9)      28th July 2010: Marriners Lane, Keighley (3).


10)   29th July 2010: Heaton Woods, vicinity of Shay lane (3).


11)   30th July 2010: Raw Nook (3).


12)   31st July 2010: Bingley Grammar School (3). Side of cattle mart/car boot sale site (5+).


13)   1st August 2010: Addingham (2), former filling station, Main St. Corner of Main St/Church Rd (1). Old Lane by side of Wharfe to Smithy Greaves (3).


14)   2nd August 2010: Cottingly,The Lodge (1). Bradford Rd on playing field (2).


15)   3rd August 2010: Cottingly (5+). Addingham/Ilkley, corner of Old Lane (3).


16)   6th August 2010: Addingham, site of Bradford Council road metal dump, corner of Church rd (1). Bingley fire station, town centre (2).


17)   7th August 2010: Chevin Park/High Royds, Menston (2). Ilkley/Otley Rd, Kashmiri Restaurant/Saxon lodge (2). Cleared woodland by side of shored up Ilkley/Bradford line, Ben Rhydding (8+).


18)   9th August 2010: Bingley, Ireland Lane, window box (1). Former Foundry (1). Raven Royd Farm (1). St Ives Estate (3).