A Very Incomplete Report on Various Threatened/Semi-Destroyed Dingy Skipper Colonies on Disused Colliery Sites and Railway Sidings in South and West Yorkshire

A Calamitous Outcome: A New Introduction (early autumn 2005)


      The Dingy Skipper season is over and so nearly is the butterfly's presence on the spoil heaps of South and West Yorkshire. In 2005 our worst fears were confirmed. Two years ago the fate of the butterfly on the former colliery spoil heaps hung in the balance. Now it has been decreed it must die, a victim of the crudest possible nature makeover we have ever witnessed. Though locals rightly fear heavy metal contamination in the artificial lakes of the Rother Valley Country Park, and forbid their kids to swim in them, this park completed in the late 70s is, in comparison to the green ostentation (read: devastation) of Kiveton Park spoil heap and others in the area, a shining example of what to do and at a smidgeon of the cost. For the time it was a surprisingly sensitive example of an urban country park and also one of the first. Though the spoil heap was landscaped (though more by unpretentious JCB operators, intent on doing a proper job, than landscape designers) it was not permitted to bring in top soil from anywhere else. The existing shale, essential for the Dingy Skipper, was left and nature allowed to take its course with some tinkering here and there. For example the spoil was sown with trefoil which in any case, given time, would have spread everywhere. Clover was also sown primarily because of the nitrate concentrating nodules in the roots of clover and the pea family generally, enabling the leguminosae to fix nitrogen from the air trapped in the soil. Thus clover (and trefoil) can flourish where other plants cannot, like on spoil heaps. (And so years later on July 15th 2005 we were able to enjoy the rare delight of watching a Clouded Yellow restlessly patrol, for several hours, the rolling acres of spoil now liberally covered in clover). But on no account was the park to be sown with that natural caricature of grass, rye grass, so beloved by developers for its yearlong, astro-turf like, choking greenery. Besides, it would have required  a substrate of nutrient rich soil and  fortunately out of the question because of the expense. Today the minimalist approach has been abandoned and the watchword is 'hang the expense' which paradoxically is always at the expense of nature.

      Never has local consultation been solicited as today, even down to giving pre teens and tiny tots a voice, (as actually happened over the plans for the Dinnington spoil heap), and never has consultation been so scorned. Never before have bio diversity groups been given such a high profile and never have they been so well and truly buried beneath the mounds of muck dumped by the mad max phalanx of earth moving equipment. Even when the authorities had been specifically informed of the existence of a Dingy Skipper colony as at Kiveton, it made not one scrap of difference.

      At Kiveton Park, the shale, the peach coloured burnt shale, and slack necessary to the Dingy Skipper`s survival has been crudely covered with several inches of imported soil. An area of trefoil on which the Dingy Skipper nectars and feeds as a caterpillar has been left on the slope of the spoil heap but there's no escaping the fact: the mere existence of trefoil does not guarantee the butterfly's survival. Bare earth is vital to it otherwise it will die .A drainage ditch has been dug to one side of the path leading up the slope and covered in road metal or hard core. This is not nearly good enough because it is some feet away from the clumps of trefoil in between which nutrient rich soil has been heaped over the formerly exposed shale. Beside Fat Hen and Redshank are already poking through the hard core (which means the ditch was covered in soil  prior to the laying of the hard core) so it is highly likely these invasive plants (which formerly were no where to be seen on the spoil heap but common enough in farmers fields) will have all but covered the drainage ditch within a few years.

    The colonies of Dingy Skippers at Orgreave on the outskirts of Sheffield have been eliminated, as has the dispersed carr woodland they flourished in. Instead, the unnatural succession of open cast, landfill, then finally science park is now well and truly underway. And as for Wooley.... Our initial estimate that the numbers of Dingy Skippers ran into thousands now reads like an embarrassing exaggeration, so precipitate has been the decline of the butterfly in the space of a year The dumpers have worked ceaselessly to reduce the numbers of Dingy Skippers and each time we passed Woolley on the MI we could only look on aghast. How far is this typical legoland housing estate set to expand' We greatly fear for what is left of this rapidly diminishing colony around the old pit sluicing ponds and by the side and on the old public pathways of the Derne Valley Way, so that one is in danger of stepping on the Dingies were they not so quick to dart up when approached. This unsightly mess will not be tolerated for much longer for this spoilt view is not part of the estate agents description.

     Though we were deeply saddened by the destruction of the former spoil heaps it did not come as a sudden shock to the system. But that is exactly what happened when we caught the train to Penistone on May 26th 2005. We wanted to establish at what point the trefoil began on the line side between Denby Dale and Penistone. We looked and looked and then to our horror we were crossing the viaduct just before Penistone station. Every trace of trefoil had been destroyed by a powerful chemical defoliant and with it one of the most unusual Dingy Skipper sites, remarkable for its elevation and exposed position. We were left reeling at such wanton destruction. What conceivable threat did this plant pose? Or was it preparing for a botanical 9/11 and therefore had to be destroyed, such is the fear nature is beginning to induce in the warped minds of the rulers, Railtrack included?

     But this was only the beginning of the horror story for there was worse to come. Within less than an hour of stepping down from the train at Penistone it was obvious that since  we last visited the site a year ago, half of the colony had been destroyed and there was nothing to stop the rest from shortly following suit. For the centre of the colony is now around Penistone station, a place that has no need to whore itself to a developer. But meanwhile it is still a wonderful eyesore of a place and to the Dingy Skipper, home from home. We learnt something about local history from a lady who stopped to natter disarmingly to us, like a lost soul who had not conversed with anyone for months. Had we come to see 'her' viaduct and did we know that Penistone had been, until just over 20 years ago, an industrial town dominated by the giant David Brown casting foundry and steel works? There had been round the clock shift working and foundry workers from Barnsley and Sheffield had been bussed in at all hours. So that was how the congealed balls of clinker in the vacant lot opposite, which the Dingy Skipper now loves to settle on, came to be there. And also the extensive railway sidings still covered in trefoil just a year ago and now the site of advance factories (warehousing/light assembly) and a housing estate called 'The Sidings' ' or at least it was. The concrete block bearing the name has now gone and the estate awaits another name more in keeping with its new rural snob appeal. And how quickly conversation turns to rising house prices, for the lady had become a reluctant homeowner. The local economy now turns on house building and house price inflation though age debarred her from using her house as collateral. For the credit mechanism, and the false dreams it is gift wrapped in, are aimed overwhelmingly at the young.  

    Glimpsed from the M1 miles below, this former industrial town on the lower slopes of the Pennines looks like a hill town in Umbria, yet another reason why the beauty of dereliction and the Dingy Skipper have just about had their day here. For Penistone is a town caught up in the transition between the old and new economics. Dating from the Reagan/Thatcher era, manufacture has declined in the UK. from 30% to 25% then 20% and now, in the space of a decade, to 15%. With the closure of grossly polluting basic extractive and transformative industries that consumed huge amounts of energy and discharged thunderclouds of smoke into the atmosphere, there came the giddy lightness of fictive economics and weightlessness accompanied by a phantasm of greenery, as words were decoupled from things like never before. On this reckoning, not much more was needed than a change of mind with respect to economics, therapy, physics and nature, to change the world and life. How long, we wondered, could this nonsensical caricature of absolute idealism and an aging new economics be forever granted, against all the odds, a new lease of life? Sitting in utter dejection on Penistone station it was plain to see the holocaust of the species, down to the last Dingy Skipper, was continuing with a vengeance. The twisting of the facts today is no longer good enough: they have to be spun so everything becomes a blur and the mind a whirl. The state and business sponsored mind police would have us believe conservation is working. However we, along with a rapidly growing band of others, know it is not and that, as a consequence, the nature conservation movement will inevitably be shaken by the greatest crises in its entire existence and one with the widest possible social implications. And with that comforting thought we bordered the train back to Huddersfield on what we desperately hope will not be our last visit to Penistone.

    This depressing narration concludes with a visit to Dodworth two stops down the line from Penistone and little over a mile from Barnsley on June 15th 2005. We knew a relief road  connecting Dodworth directly with the M1 had been planned for some time and that would pass right through the heart of the Dingy Skipper colony. As most Dodworth residents were opposed to it (possibly for recreational reasons), we thought development would be postponed and, with a bit of luck, postponed indefinitely. It was the speed at which precious habitat had been torn up and concrete poured over it that distressed us the most. A year ago Dingy Skippers had flown here but what chance now? None were to be seen in the culvert running parallel to the unfinished relief road but let`s hope it was too late in the season for the Dingy Skipper - at least in the north. We were approached by a Birse construction worker with a Labrador dog on a leash. I fully expected to be barked at but the construction worker expressed interest in the butterfly and the dog licked my hand instead. How different from knuckle-head managers who can only snarl, fearful the job will not get finished in double quick time, because of this more literal, and promising, war of the flea. Or homeowners in choice rural hideaways, concerned only for the value of their property and what they possess, and not in the nature surrounding them, which they find threatening because it has a value they cannot remotely understand. The mere thought of an unusual butterfly looking at them and casing the joint sends paranoiac shivers  through them and is almost enough to put them in a psychiatric ward, as it is apt to get an asset-depreciating naturalist, who happens to be interested in butterflies, into trouble with the police.

                                                                        

Waleswood Dingy Waleswood Dingy
One of the surprises of the year 2005 was to find a flourishing colony - numbering at least 12 - of second generation Dingy Skippers on the former site of Waleswood colliery, South Yorks during a hot  August day (2005-8-8). Waleswood is adjacent to Rother Valley Country Park though on the same day, more's the pity, none were flying there. Mainly flying in and around an old ditch they were unfortunately on land beneath a big hoarding advertising this superb brownfield for factory development. The colony is therefore already doomed...


(Two longish films on the devastation of the Dingy Skipper and their Yorkshire colliery environmemts are in an advanced state of preparation)

Below: Dingy Skippers at Work! Penistone Station May 2004

Penistone Penistone


                    Much of the following report was written several months ago in the late summer of 2004.

    Against our better judgment much of the following report is far too optimistic in tone. Apart from the single exception of Kiveton Park where efforts are now under way apparently to save the colony, the battle to save the Dingy Skippers on the spoil heaps of Yorkshire where they have only recently been discovered is all but lost. We would guess this is true of everywhere else in the north of England.

     Despite a wider ranging sensitivity to green issues than ever before and even because of it which lulls people in to a false sense of security a veritable holocaust of fauna and flora is under way. This final solution of wild life shows no sign of abating and, with each little victory over living things, gains in courage and momentum.

      There is a famous saying that 'what is not morally possible does not exist' and we are faced with the paradox that it is a largely media driven 'heightened' awareness that blinds people to the actual reality. It cannot happen and for that reason it does.

       In the south east of England the Dingy Skipper is fast disappearing. No one knows why because on the North Downs in places like Banstead Downs the habitat has barely changed for decades. In fact the annual clearing and burning of the scrub continually exposing large areas of chalk downland, only sparsely covered with grass at least to begin with should have helped the Dingy  Skipper multiply. But the reverse has happened leaving us with the usual suspects once habitat loss can be ruled out: the persistence and spread of agrichemicals and vehicle emissions.

      The Dingy Skipper in the north was possibly granted a breathing space as smoke stack industry declined and the pit spoil heaps fell in to disuse - only then to fall victim to housing development and advanced factory units as spoil heaps were tractored out in preparation for the false green credentials and other destructive banalities of suburban living.  No doubt in updates to the Millennium Atlas for Butterflies  the number of 10 metre squares will doubtless increase when the extent of the Dingy Skipper colonies on former colliery spoil heaps becomes better known. But finally the percentage fall on these newly discovered sites is likely to be even more precipitous because of the speed at which the spoil heaps are being obliterated.

        Unlike in the south where loss of habitat is not so much the issue in the north the Dingy Skipper's fate hangs on the enormous projected house building program. The economics of the housing market will determine the future of this butterfly. The deflation of the butterflies' numbers is paralleled by house price inflation which the government is eager to cool off. Deflation and negative equity in the housing market will at least in the north mean increasing numbers of the Dingy Skipper. Who said that butterflies and political economy were separate? The fate of the Dingy Skipper shows how the destinies of both are entangled.

       The scale of the building projected to take place recalls that of the post way years. This however is to be market driven (at least in theory however there all manner of hidden subsidies) which  newspapers like the FT mention in passing but do not harp on about in case the wrong kind of person takes note unlike the unabashed state sponsored rebuilding following World War Two.

       This change  does not reflect a more searching critique of the state rather it represents a capitulation to the private market which is seen as inherently more responsible because it is unlikely to result in the monstrosities of post war reconstruction. The key to this is sustainability, a mere incantatory word.

        But sustainability was always a feature of the New Jerusalem's constructed on England green and pleasant lands. This also was building to last and different to the industrial hovels that were thrown up in great confusion and lacking all order and elementary sanitation. The new towns like Newton Aycliffe were based on a close look at the surrounding villages of Heighington, Aycliffe, Redworth and Midderidge. They were meant to bring nature into the lives of ordinary working people long before the word ecology became fashionable.

        Concrete deserts and jungles were meant to be every bit as sustainable as today's red brick Legoland estates for adults. However the ideology of community and sustainability is based on village localism was less pronounced and stylistically it owed much to the International Style in architecture.

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

It might as well be centuries...

      This report is also a prelude to a CD film now in the editing process, which can be shown on a computer monitor or modern projector together with a more complex and longer DVD film that can be shown on a TV screen. Obviously a massive amount of research is needed here and only a small portion of possible Dingy Skipper sites in these parts of Yorkshire have been covered.

       We hope some of this research and critique will be taken up by various council funded biodiversity groups and we would like to persuade these bodies to adopt the Dingy Skipper as a species priority for both survey and conservation work. Although clusters of small colonies are dotted over especially the South Yorkshire landscape they can be very easily wiped out as gene pools are weakened now one colony, then another, disappears.  These clusters are in fact essential to maintain a viable and healthy population.

       Jeff Lunn, manager in the Wakefield office for English Nature was the first to suggest this course of action to us in an email in which he also goes on to say: 'I have tried various means of trying to engage with the decision makers (usually either English Partnerships or the local planning authorities) to get wildlife issues incorporated into restoration schemes, including leaving bare ground, safeguarding existing features, creating microtopography, natural succession etc.  We have tried as local residents, through lobbying as interested local groups, and persuading bodies like EN and the Council countryside sections to take the issue seriously.  In general I regret we have failed as most of the colliery sites have been subject to bland and unimaginative treatments with no thought at all for wildlife. It is proving very difficult to persuade the decision makers. Things have changed a little recently, and we have been successful (on paper) at Grimethorpe colliery where no work has yet started, and also potentially on restored sites such as Barrow.'

      We would more or less endorse this. We realise we do have a fight on our hands and the chances of even a minor victory for the Dingy Skipper in the present climate is slim .

 
David and Stuart Wise. Autumn & Winter 2004/5

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To begin at the beginning...

Kiveton Park Colliery, South Yorkshire (and Dinnington, Edlington, Maltby, Orgreave, Woodhouse Mill, Waleswood)

        Throughout our lives derelict, partially derelict and in some cases still functioning industrial sites especially railway embankments, sidings and goods yards held a special fascination for us. As children they seemed like natural adventure playgrounds all the more exciting because we were forbidden to play on them. They could be very dangerous places and yet apart from the occasional nasty cut and torn clothing our little gang survived unharmed.

       We were around six when we first ventured on to our first spoil heap. This was at Liverton Mines near Whitby in North Yorks where our grandfather had worked. The pit had closed in the 1920's and by the time we got to know it, the pit heap had been allowed to run wild for over a quarter of a century - roughly the same length of time most existent spoil heaps have been left unattended after the wholesale closure of the coal industry in the 1980s and 1990s'. On our first visit long ago in 1950 we sank up to our knees in the water logged shale. Fearing the black ooze would swallow us up we retreated. But on the very next day we were back because on the sodden paths and quagmires surrounding the spoil heaps we had seen  frogs not in ones or twos but in their hundreds - and to a child a frog is as good as life get. We had only heard tell of such plagues from bible readings in Sunday School but here they were in rich profusion and a delight to handle and play with.

       From that moment our love of industrial dereliction was born and the authority of the bible, in its attitude to nature, fatally undermined, for these areas were oasis of freedom from parental control and hateful farmers forever threatening to pitch fork us off their land. This freedom from interference meant nature could be experienced in peace and looking back we are in no doubt that even then our interest in nature from an early age was stimulated more by broken backed industry than by the green fields of summer.

        A provisional list speaks for itself: to name but a few, we found a thriving colony of Common Blues in an abandoned quarry on the fringes of a smoky industrial town in West Yorks where records state there was no such thing, Dark Green Fritillaries close by a war time munitions factory in Co. Durham, and Elephant Hawk caterpillars by the score feeding on the Rose Bay Willow Herb that in the post war years swept across bomb sites. I even recall, in my pre-teen years, cutting out an article from the 'Yorkshire Evening Post' mentioning the fact a number of Bedstraw Hawk caterpillars had been found feeding on the same plant on a bomb site close to Leeds city centre. And finally we found Dingy Skippers flying in their thousands on an industrial estate in Co. Durham (see Codlings & Street One on this web). In fact we would treat them with an indifference bordering on contempt: 'Ugh, its just another Dingy' we would say when we would catch sight of one far from its usual range  ---------- so it is somewhat ironic, 50 years later, we are now entering a desperate plea on the butterfly's behalf.

        On May 22nd 2002 a very good friend John Dennis, a miner from Kiveton Park colliery, finally died because of illness and alcoholism though hardly helped by the brutal treatment of the miners during and after the strike of 1984/5. Like Porritt's friend Ben Morley he always had been an acute observer of nature and a walk through the countryside with him was always a revelation. Morley is only now beginning to receive some of the recognition he deserves as the co-founder, with Porritt, of serious research into Yorkshire Lepidoptera.

        On the day of his funeral in early June 2002 and feeling ever so sad, one of us took a walk through the now vacated ground of the former Kiveton Pit where John once worked. Noticing the teeming wild life, particularly the clouds of Common Blues; the misery of our friend's absence began to lift. I had just photographed a dazzlingly azure example of the blue female (a variation of the ab. mariscolare) when I noticed a Dingy Skipper resting on the blue grey shale - then two, three until I finally realised this was a surprisingly large Dingy Skipper population.

        Over the following days we kept returning to the site to try and get an indication of its size. It was far larger than we first thought and the colony appeared to be concentrated around the old clock tower that formerly belonged to the colliery and pit baths which have now acquired heritage status. However they were to be found in greater numbers on the wooded side pf the spoil heap facing the road toward Harthill, particularly on the fringes and in the clearings not yet completely covered by the encroaching carr woodland. Looking about other landscape features held out a promise. But in the abandoned quarries like the large one near Kiveton Bridge station there was no sign of the insect. But the spoil heap of Dinnington Colliery was a different matter and so another reasonably sized colony was eventually  added to the official species map.

        Eager to follow our discoveries up a year later in the spring of 2003 we were off exploring as many former colliery sites in South Yorks as possible. Nearly everywhere we went the delightful insect would show up in some remote corner or other at Thurcroft, Maltby (although the colliery is still functioning, the original spoil heap is still accessible) Waleswood (plus that part of Waleswood making up the Rother Valley Country Park) Orgreave just on the outskirts of Sheffield also had a number of small colonies as did the flat land across the railway on the southern fringes of Orgreave that possibly once contained the Woodhouse Mill railway sidings.

       These welcome discoveries inspiring in us a determination to search without let up had a very depressing downside: all these sites were due to be developed as part of the government's house building program plus general warehouse and office development. Set in beautiful countryside and close to a major urban centre, they could hardly be more desirable. Aware of just how dire the situation was we hastily put together a pamphlet. There is no point in reiterating the contents of this pamphlet except to say that reading it may be of some value (see Ex-colliery Dingy Skippers on this web). And if any one's interested a thorough search of inner city Sheffield, and maybe a look on the verges of the airport runways, may reveal the insect's presence. Though unknown to us at the time, Jeff Lunn of English Nature had already recorded the Dingy Skipper on a number of sites including Tankersley Colliery, Gypsy Marsh and on the old railway adjacent to Barnsley Main Colliery and these findings are probably recorded in British Wildlife bi-monthly magazine.

         A fanfare of publicity always accompanies proposed developments such as these. Reclamation Scheme Masterplans are thrown open to the public and everyone can express an opinion from councillors, local residents to environmental interest groups teachers to school children. Nothing on paper could be more consultative, issue conscious and democratic. And yet always the result is tragically different to that intended by the facade of a seemingly ever more inclusive democracy. If the school children's pet gerbils could speak they would assuredly be given a voice, only to then find out that, instead of liberation, even their tread mill will now turn faster.

         The game at Thurcroft appeared to be all but over by 2004 and yet from a Doncaster bound bus we were relieved to note that from a distance at least one side of the Thurcroft heap still with a covering of birch trees and trefoil had survived unchanged.

         Although we were informed by a spirited local RSPB (SK-58) that the heart of the colony at Dinnington was safe from redevelopment we have our doubts.  No where is 'safe' these days and to expel the word from the vocabulary of conservationists makes excellent sense. The surviving Dingy Skipper colony is perilously close to the main axis of the despoiling operation where the pit winding gear once stood. We know for a fact part of this colony has already been taken out, plus a lovely and unexpected array of Bee Orchids growing alongside the trefoil on a shale and clay base.

        Let's face it; does development ever come to a full stop? And whose opinion in the end carries the most weight? A director looking out of their gleaming show case of red-brick precision and tin could well object to the un-business like disorder that meets their eyes where the Dingy Skippers just about manages to cling on. It would be easy to point an accusatory finger if things were this simple. Unfortunately, a tidy, done and dusted, business like approach to nature is part of a far more general suburban aesthetic of mown lawns, leylandia, pampas grass, border plant exotics, paved car ports and paths etc and one that has been forced upon these formerly splendid sites of industrial dereliction  and will not stop until the last piece of wicked coal disappears forever beneath the latest junk from the garden centre.

       Travelling along the MI in Autumn 2004 we were sickened to see that the summit of Kiveton Park spoil heap has already been laid waste. Gone is the crowning hump where buckets, strung from an overhead cable, disgorged waste and far and wide the area has been levelled and acres of Kidney Vetch torn up. On the North Downs a scattering of Kidney Vetch will prompt a search for the Small Blue. Here there were fields of the stuff and we were reminded the nearest colony of Small Blues was not all that far away in Derbyshire.

       We will end this contradictory tale of past joys and future woes on a ridiculous note. Some individual has taken it upon himself to introduce the Dingy Skipper into two well known nature reserves close by at Anston Stones  Wood and Lindrick Common. It is ridiculous by virtue of the fact the Dingy Skipper, possibly for centuries, has been doing remarkably well in this area of South Yorks though not in those places officially designated as reserves. It would have made far more sense if this individual had looked for the butterfly on the spoil heaps of the former Notts coal field like at Harworth, Blidworth etc. Yet the joke could well be on us because these introductions in well known nature reserves may turn out to be the only guarantee of the butterfly's survival because on these newly discovered sites they could be eliminated within a matter of hours, even minutes in some cases.

Kiveton Site 2004 Kiveton Site Canal
Above: The carr woodland Kiveton where the Dingy Skipper thrives Above: The old Chesterfield canal, Kiveton spoil heap where the Dingy Skipper flies with occasional colonies of Brown Argus
Kiveton Clocktower Trefoil 2004 Kiveton Pit Baths Trefoil 2004
Heritage monuments: Clocktower and pit head baths, Kiveton. The mass area of birds foot trefoil where Kiveton colliery once stood.


       Above: Never again will we see Kiveton as  in these photographs. By Autumn 2004 the remorseless development juggernaut was already gearing up for a full-on operation. Dinnington was in the throes of an extreme makeover and Kiveton awaited a sudden kick-start under the general stewardship of Yorkshire Forward involving Birse Civils, Renaissance South Yorkshire, the Coalfields For English Partnership and RIDO - Rotherham Investment and Development Office - part of Rotherham Council. Alas by October 2004, Kiveton was  disappearing as dumper trucks and excavators owned by the Manchester-based, Cheetham Hill Construction ltd, en masse, moved in. Everything leftover from the opening of the pit in 1866 to its closure in 1995 is to be destroyed or rather 'reclaimed' during a 15-month,  £9.6 million makeover care of English Partnerships national regeneration agency 'where people can enjoy a range of outdoor pursuits' according to consultants Renaissance South Yorkshire. 250,000 trees are to be planted when the Dingy Skipper likes bare earth! This very simple fact in itself would suggest no thought has been given to saving this threatened species.

        Below:  During 2004 we also found other small colonies of Dingy Skipper - one located right on the summit of the old Dinnington spoil heap. Perhaps the most remarkable aside to this desperate search was finding small colonies of newly arrived Brown Argus in some of the very areas where the Dingy Skipper flies at Dinnington and Kiveton. These 'colonies' are undoubtedly elusive and for some reason seem to come and go - there one emergence but not the next! Perhaps the most remarkable of these dual-purpose colonies  resides opposite Tesco's supermarket at Dinnington on an appealing humdrum piece of land between Athorpe Rd and Littlefield Rd where local children build dens (only entered by pronouncing a secret password), which abut their parent's gardens. The children refer to this miracle world as 'The Hedges'. Looking here for Dingy Skipper or Brown Argus (or both in the spring) to the accompaniment of childhood shrills, laughter and crying with their serious commitment to these imaginative games is always a delight. Alas not for much longer.  Locals have mooted  'the Hedges' are earmarked for a skating rink!

Dinnington Colliery Edge Dinnington Colliery Site Dumpers 2004
Dinnington development, next to the largest Dingy Skipper colony Where Dinnington colliery was. End of Dingy Skipper site!
Dinnington Safeways 2004 The Hedges
Old spoil heap, Dinnington. Tesco and Dingy Skipper colony  The Hedges, Dinnington. Brown Argus and Dingy Skipper site

 

Dodworth, Barnsley

        The Dodworth Colliery Dingy Skipper site in the Barnsley area first came to light in May 2003. Again however the perimeters and numbers are not known or if the colony forms a continuous whole or is divided up into discrete pockets. A characteristically soulless modern business park has been flung up over the entire area where the pit winding gear once stood. The surrounds have been landscaped and horticulturised in the usual business like, nature hostile, manner with acres of tarmacing reserved for the rows of vehicular anachronisms. In between however there are appealing patches of un-modernised earth with - heaven forbid - even some trefoil. Perhaps the occasional Dingy Skipper strays onto these areas but we didn't see any. There are other areas worth investigating like the embankment that slopes down to the  MI motorway cutting near Dodworth.

         However it seems likely the majority of the Dingy Skippers are to be found on the steep sided spoil heap. The summit, with its splendid views over the surrounding countryside (Baildon and Ilkley Moor are easily visible in the distance), is practically bare of trees yet hosts a resilient population that is doing quite well, particularly where the carr woodland thins out close to the top. However on much of the spoil heap the invasive carr woodland is so thick that not even trefoil can survive, never mind the Dingy Skipper. Both in response to conservation measures from the 1960s onwards, requiring that the management of industrial tailings be the responsibilities of the extractive or milling industries and the Aberfan disaster where many children were killed, the spoil heap at Dodworth has been attended to at some point in the past 30 years.

         Pathways criss-cross the spoil heap. Some have been laid down deliberately others are of an informal nature and all the more interesting for that because this age old testament to human preference has been all but lost excepting in places such as these. This powerful reminder of  what self-determination can achieve is another reason why these  spoil heaps cannot be left to find their own form. And there can be no doubting how much local people enjoy strolling around these man-made wonders that only latterly have truly come in to their own.

         However if new factory units are to be built along the railway line between here and the MI the very heart of the Dingy Skipper colony will stop beating. Worse still a friendly, inquisitive walker who lived close by informed us that a road has been proposed which is to pass through here to relieve the rush hour congestion caused by the frequent delays at the level crossing before Dodworth station. Most of Dodworth's residents are opposed to it but  common sense has ceased to matter. The easing of a traffic bottleneck will only multiply the problem in the long term  by encouraging the increased use of motorised transport.

           We maintain there are still colonies waiting to be discovered in the Barnsley area and we would heartily recommend that the area is thoroughly gone over in the sure knowledge such efforts will meet with success.

                                                                                                   

Woolley Colliery straddling Barnsley and Wakefield municipal councils.

       This former colliery site  still signposted on bus indicators as Woolley Colliery sits astride both Barnsley and Wakefield municipal councils. The total area covered by the spoil heap is enormous and it took several visits to cover to completely cover the site from end to end. To judge from the amount of undisturbed trefoil we were finding tucked away on gentle slopes and in folds and hollows, this gigantic spoil heap must, we believe, have once hosted the largest colony of all the spoil heaps and maybe even in all of Yorkshire. The colliery lies just within the boundaries of West Yorkshire and for sure the butterfly does not appear to have moved much beyond Woolley.

       Most of the spoil heap has either been recently planted with trees, covered with soil and now farmed, turned into open cast and the terrain then flattened to attract developers or used as landfill, there are two longish barrows of incinerated plaster board giving of an unpleasant odour of ash and burnt gypsum. The reclaimed area is so extensive (and presently barren of all vegetation and life) it could support not only a sprawling housing estate but an out of town supermarket as well.

       We have every  intention of returning in the spring of 2005 to see if the out of the way dispersed pockets of trefoil support  dispersed small colonies of Dingy Skipper. However for the moment we can say a large flourishing population resides at the base of this enormous spoil heap probably numbering hundreds at the height of the emergence. It runs parallel to the MI (a mere 1000yds away) and the railway line from Sheffield to Leeds. Going from a row of industrial cottages, Haigh Mews, it extends around the perimeter of several ponds into which flood waters from the pit are still pumped and terminates where the railway line passes through a thickly wooded cutting just before Darley station. The latter area is classic industrial habitat almost to the point of caricature and we have yet to take a photograph of the Dingy here that sums up the spirit of the place. There is a fenced off area containing an industrial waterfall caked with iron oxides, a graffiti covered brick outhouse, wartime hockey stick posts of crumbling concrete with the rusting reinforcing  showing through, storm drains, ballast on which wisps of desiccated grass,  shrubs of goat willow and trefoil are  growing. Every now and then a train passes, sometimes within inches of a resting Dingy Skipper.

       The pit ponds are located on both sides of the rail track connected by a tunnel. One of them has even been turned into a fish pond and is frequently used by anglers. We cannot say if the Dingy Skipper is to found in this area between the railway and the MI motorway but very likely it will be here.

         In fact the path traversing the pit heap on which the Dingy Skippers are to be seen is part of the old Dearne Valley Way complex of footpaths. One of them as it climbs up from Haigh Mews to Woolley Edge Lane at the top of the spoil heap, not only becomes impassable but has actually been fenced off with barbed wire. We found this infringement of ancient rights maddening and utterly cavalier: it is almost always possible to climb over a wooden fence but barbed wire is another matter. And to cap it all there was an cast iron sign post dating from the 19th Century pointing the way. And an OS map clearly showed there were several paths through the dense woodland fringing Woolley Edge Lane. But we were unable to locate them because, unsurprisingly , they have become overgrown through lack of use. Thwarted on every side this was modern enclosure and very much the shape of things to come. No where is this more true than of Woolley Colliery.

                  Just opposite on the far side of  the M1 there is a highly 'successful' business park. Formerly one of the units now called Premdor (a furniture factory) belonged to Spring Ram. This company manufactured a range of bathroom suites which a few years back attracted the notice of the Economist magazine as an example of how the north's industrial base could be remade. Had there already been a modern housing estate on Woolley Colliery it would have made business sense to locate its showrooms here just across the way from the factory. As essential hygiene is progressively replaced by the proxy of decorative sanitary ware, Spring Rams 'stylish' tat could well have been all the rage.

                         On the day in early August 2004 we roamed like lost dogs across Wooley Colliery (and by the by finding the clumps of unsuspected trefoil which no human being appeared to have set foot on before) we had decided to approach the spoil heap from the Wakefield/Barnsley road hoping to shorten the walking distance. It was a big mistake. But from the road we had glimpsed yet further trefoil covered reaches of the colliery spoil heap we were unlikely to have seen otherwise. The original purpose of our visit was to check if Grayling was there (it wasn't!) as the colliery with its abandoned railway sidings lay mid way between the Worsborough quarry and Healey Mills marshalling yards where the Grayling was known to fly. The roundabout detour forced upon us by the 'new enclosures' was equalled only by the return journey which took in the man-made escarpment we had seen earlier in the day. On our reckoning this was centuries old and formed part of the collieries early workings. Despite its elevated position with a magnificent view across to Grimethorpe and beyond there was enough tree cover to provide shelter from the wind for a colony of Dingy Skippers. And should we find the butterfly here next year then it will only strengthen our argument the butterfly has been on these spoil heaps for possibly centuries.


Wooley Colliery Distant Waste 2004
Distant view of old Wooley colliery where the winding gear stood Railway-side, Wooley. Heart of a huge Dingy Skipper colony
Wooley Colliery Industrial Fountain  Wooley Colliery Industrial Sculpture 2004
Industrial sculpture, Wooley. Let's keep it.  Big Dingy Skipper colony Industrial sculpture 2. Dingy Skipper here flies in abundance

 

Frickley Colliery

                  Visiting the site on June 4th 2003 there was no sign of the Dingy Skipper on this vast spoil heap that still bore signs of its recent past as the colliery only closed in the mid 1990s. We were however too late as the Dingy Skipper had come and gone because its flight time had been brought forward several weeks by the excessively hot weather.

                  Not to be wrong footed again we visited the colliery on May 22 2004 and found a small colony numbering around 15 in an area half a mile from Frickley Hall and right next to the railway line running from Swinton Exchange to Moorthorpe. Of course we had hoped to find many more in the immediate vicinity but in this we were disappointed. Before us there stretched a vast blanket of trefoil practically as far as the eye could see. However it was treeless and devoid of wind breaks, though on a hot day the butterflies may well be tempted to roam far from their sheltered corner in which there was a sizeable copse of maturing sycamore and birch trees. It was at once obvious to us that this colony would rapidly expand if suitable tree cover was provided.

                Continuing on around the base of this heaped up, industrial moorland of awesome proportions and, for those with the wit to appreciate it, of undoubted magnificence, we eventually found another miniscule colony. To photograph a lone specimen we had to climb over the fence that skirted  the concreted industrial roadway still used by utility vehicles, dumper trucks and so forth. The two colonies were maybe two miles apart which may provide an indication as to how long the butterfly has been at Frickley, seeing it is so averse to travelling. But it was by no means an exhaustive search and time was pressing. Rounding a bluff we came face to face with yet another anodyne housing estate with the obligatory banqueting suite decked out in flags, sealing, we suspect, the fate of  Frickley's Pennine-like spoil heap. I recall how some twenty years ago South Elmsall  railway station had been covered in graffiti, some of it still quite imaginative. A clock face, its hands long gone, had been painted with arrows indicating several different times of the day. And on the platform South Elmsall had been crossed out and re-named New York. In fact in a short while the road leading from the station to Frickley Colliery would locally be referred to as 'The Bronx' as the once vibrant friendly mining community gave way to Class A drug dealing, burglary and mugging, following the pit closure programme of the early 1990s .

                  We speculated on how the butterfly might have got here and its curious absence generally from W Yorks, despite the existence of large areas of trefoil and bare earth that suits the butterfly. Sightings of the butterfly in W Yorks over the last decade have been few and far between - singletons at Kippax, a couple at Welldale and Castleford etc. Though it takes some believing it is not found on the rolling plains of trefoil that cover large parts of Fairburn Ings. And why isn't the butterfly at Upton or along the trefoil rich railway verges between Featherstone and Streethouses? The same can be said about the more informal nature reserve around the Skelton Grange Power Station at Stourton in Leeds or the close by, and far more formal reserve, at Rothwell. Is it only a matter of time? In which case it will be instructive to record how quickly the Dingy Skipper spreads once there and would provide valuable information on rates of colonization that cannot be had in the south where the butterfly's range is drastically contracting.

                  On the same day we visited the Fitzwilliam nature reserve, formerly the site of the Kinsley Drift mine. Despite an exhaustive search we failed to find anything, and it has to be said the most promising places were the least  modified areas of the reserve where the signs of its recent industrial past are still visible. These out of the way concrete and brick leftovers fringed by trefoil, fortunately  have yet to be reclaimed by what is fast becoming formulaic conservationist orthodoxy which still has to learn to leave well alone. We wondered also if the Dingy Skipper had made it to Ferrymoor Riddings Colliery which stood midway between Frickley and Fitzwilliam. The place has now been landscaped and built on (i.e. swept clean of nature) but from our recollections there was formerly enough bare ground, and possibly trefoil, to have supported a small colony of Dingy Skippers.


Frickley Moor Frickley
The huge Frickley spoil heap. Or is it Ilkley Moor? Heart of the small Dingy Skipper colony at Frickley
Frickley Frickley
Miners houses, Frickley. What became known as "The Bronx" New Barretts estate with outlook on Frickley spoil heap


The railway lines at Penistone Junction

           From the top of Dodworth spoil heap on May 22 2003 we could see Penistone way up in the distance   and looking  like an exquisite,  hill top Umbrian town. We even wondered if it had been the inspiration - or rather lack of it - behind Will Alsop's megalomaniac plans for Barnsley. Recalling the covering of trefoil by the line side we had noticed from the windows of a train carriage we also wondered if the Dingy Skipper could be there.

          However in between Penistone and Dodworth there lies Silkstone where, right next to the former colliery yard, a railway runs from Sheffield to Huddersfield. This was just about accessible from Dodworth but the trek yielded nothing. We retraced our steps to Woolley colliery where we were rewarded by finding the Dingy Skipper which compensated for our now aching legs and feet.

         A year later on May 2004 taking from Huddersfield the same train  that passes through Silkstone we alighted at Penistone. It was an overcast day windy day and venturing along the now abandoned and overgrown platform through which the Woodhead trains once passed, it seemed ideal territory for the Dingy Skipper. As soon as the sun came out they were there within an instant. All that day and despite the high winds where ever we looked we found the Dingy Skipper provided the habitat was suitable. Strung out along the line side it only petered out at a hole of a Barretts housing estate a mile and a half  down the line and midway between Penistone and Silkstone. The estate was called 'The Sidings' and from the name we gathered it was once a railway siding. The flat ground leading up to the estate is covered with trefoil and on this now very windy day Dingy Skippers could be seen sheltering behind the piles of hewn birch which had been cleared from the site. To one side there was a notice to say the land had been reserved for light industrial units and if interested please phone an office in Barnsley.

      Whilst recording on video the way in which the trefoil abruptly came to a halt at the estates perimeter wall a car pulled up beside me and the driver leaned across to ask me if I would mind telling him what I was doing. It was a Barretts employee and though the estate was still under construction, at the other end the part I was standing on was the responsibility of Barnsley municipal council. I was furious at this intrusion upon my civil liberties but noting his faced was twisted into grimace one eye tightly shut the other open I realised this human gargoyle was a pathetic flunkey fearful of losing his job and frightened of his superiors. He said to me 'you were taking photographs -----and, er, anything can happen---so-------". If only photographs could change the world!

     That much was proved by the first shots of this blue planet wreathed in silky white clouds from space and which so moved the astrobiologist and cosmologist Carl Sagan he thought it would act as a catalyst to saving the planet. In fact over time these images have come to form an ever growing substitute second nature that masks the unprecedented destruction taking place.

     At this point we had to hurry back as it was late in the day. Returning  we did note how easy it would be to build on this extended Dingy Skipper colony. For one thing much of the land next to the track had already been levelled when the railway was first built in the 19th Century. So costly earth moving equipment would not be needed. And then there was the desirability of the location with wonderful views on all sides. However our run-in with the Barrets employee had revealed a weakness. And that is how vulnerable such outfits are to charges of ecological vandalism and one that could be exploited once all official channels were exhausted,

       But it had been an extraordinary day. No one could have guessed that such an extensive colony  of Dingy Skippers was surviving so high up  and so far west. We don't know if it extended beyond the overgrown platforms of the former Woodhead route and if the  Dingy Skipper could be found flying amongst the heather where the line cuts through the forbidding moorland to Stalybridge which I well remember travelling on as a child. For certain modern housing now covers part of the track just where it leaves the overgrown platform and for quite some distance after. But beyond that who knows?

     This is also an opportune moment to remark on how the advertised Sheffield/Huddersfield station walk has helped reduced the numbers of Dingy Skippers. Alongside the tarmaced path suitable for cyclists and walkers no trefoil is to be found. In fact I took video footage showing how the trefoil came to an abrupt halt at the security fence separating the path from the railway line. Yet another example of 'conservation' gone sadly wrong.

 

Healey Mills Marshalling Yards. Ossett & Horbury

      Although colliery terrains and adjacent railway verges are the more usual locations for the Dingy Skipper, this site is different. Healey Mills Marshalling Yards is nowhere near a spoil heap. The Dewsbury pits closed in the late 50s early 60s and the last remaining colliery at Caphouse a couple of miles up the hill from the Calder valley bottom where the yards are situated, was closed in the 1980s to then become the National Mining Museum. The wooded, scenic backdrop is straight out of West Virginia, a Hazard Holler of a place Johnny Cash would have recognised, and not at all typical of the super pits like Gascoigne Wood that dominated coal mining  prior to the wholesale closure of the industry.

      As an exercise in industrial conservation Caphouse Colliery is an example of what not to do. It has been landscaped to attract visitors and, in particular, parties of school children. Along with the pit ponies a  Nature Trail has also been laid on, but despite a thorough search we were unable to locate any trefoil which we were convinced must once have been there. We did eventually find it but only in a lane by the side of the museum which confirmed our opinion that trefoil must once have covered the Caphouse spoil heap. It is ironic this nature friendly exercise in industrial conservation, and chosen because of its sylvan, romantic  setting, may possibly have destroyed a resident Dingy Skipper colony. Viewing the area from the vantage point of Thornhill Edge on the western perimeter of Dewsbury, the eye can still make out the contours of spoil heaps from former drift mines dating back to at least the early middle ages These have been converted into agricultural land with a few lone colliery building still incongruously left standing in the middle of large fields. More sizable ones, like at Flockton between Horbury and Huddersfield, are now completely covered in grass and there is even a coppice of maturing sycamores which gives an indication of how long the spoil heap has been disused. The only other place  up here where trefoil and Dingy Skippers might have survived is at Emley Moor, another pit that was closed in the 1980s and not far from Holme Moss TV mast. It is now a business park with a scenic panorama like no other, but any Dingy Skippers have long since disappeared from view.

        Tracking the Dingy Skipper we inevitably looked for the nearest jumping off point. It is a well known fact there is little migration between pockets of the butterfly even within a single colony. Bearing this in mind we came to the conclusion the Dingy Skipper at Horbury may have been there for some time and could easily have flown down from Caphouse many years ago.

        On account of bad weather conditions we were unable to determine the numbers or the size of the colony and also because our mere presence there was illegal and, if caught, could result in a £1000 fine. However on old maps a path through the yards is clearly marked and it may well be a right of way and worth fighting for. If the yard is ever completely closed off - a distinct possibility even by this time next year - then our ignorance concerning the yards wild life will be bliss to the rail networks. Ever since asset stripping became fashionable in the 70s (e.g. Slater/Walker) the temptation to sell of land, as land values have rocketed, has become irresistible. The Horbury yards  still has a manually operated points system and much of the track is in disrepair, with even sections of track missing here and there. It is a situation that cannot possibly last and which bodes ill for the yards remarkable flora and fauna that has never been properly surveyed.

Panorama Storrs Hill Panorama Storrs Hill
Overgrown tracks, Healey Mills. Heart of Grayling/Dingy Skipper colony Healey Mills with Storrs Hill Quarry in background

 

A somewhat different, un-concluding, postscript.........

   The foregoing has been about a particular butterfly, the Dingy Skipper. But there are enough asides in the text to show that the fight for its conservation cannot be a single issue.

     Looking for it on the spoil heaps and in the railway sidings of S and W Yorkshire brought back memories of our early youth, because it was in these locations we had first seen the butterfly. But the nostalgia that engulfed us, that irreparable sense of loss that brought us at times close to tears, was also too serious to just weep about and set in motion more constructive thoughts and a search for far reaching, practical solutions.

     We were raised until the age of nine at a railway halt 'in the country'. It was here, at the level crossing on the road between the villages of Aycliffe and Heighington. Stephenson's beam engine, 'Locomotion No1' was, in 1825, unloaded from a horse drawn cart on to the Stockton and Darlington Railway. Digging in his allotment, my father was to uncover part of the original track. We, and our family, were the creation of the industrial revolution and, moreover, of its most dark, satanic part, the railways, the mines and steel mills. Nature should have been a factory copy of itself, a pure carbon repro with soot-synthesising leaves and blades of silicon grass near which the ejecta of furnaces still smouldered. And so it was in places, and yet when we came to read 'the romantic poets' we were shaken with all the force of a revelation.

    I have italicised 'romantic poets' for the simple reason there is a major difference of revolutionary importance between the young Wordsworth and Coleridge and Byron, Shelley and John Clare. Ten years elapsed between our dawning interest in Lepidoptera and our growing awareness of romanticism. But at no time were we ever tempted to write juvenile verses to butterflies and moths. What counted was the heightened sensation of nature we were getting from the actual words and to live these words with the maximum intensity, by recreating them in our own experience. And in that we were not wrong.

     As our knowledge deepened, it has become apparent that the great poets of the romantic era were poets in name only and were reaching beyond the art of poetry. Wordsworth only deigns to mention the poet towards the end of the great introduction to the 'Lyrical Ballads' of 1800, and then almost in passing, as if remembering he is supposed to be, after all, a poet. Though the diction is clearly Wordsworth's, every line had been vetted and approved by Coleridge, so it adds up to a joint effort. The latter's later distinction in 'Biographia Literaria', between a primary and secondary imagination, because conceived in terms of the poets' traditional stock in trade, marks a step backwards. But neither was able to live up to the promise the great preface contained, or take it further in the direction it was tending.

     This disintegrating tendency is even more apparent in Byron and Shelley - particularly the latter. Byron, a too felicitous a rhymer who chose not to rhyme if it suited his purpose and  truth, doubted if the conventional distinction between prose and poetry applied any longer. And in his private notebooks, where he lays his heart bare because it is addressed to no one other than himself; a contempt for versification pours out and a plea for action entered: poets have only sung the world, the point however is to change it. Between them Byron and Shelley (especially Shelley) anticipated the revolutionary avant-garde of the 20th Century by almost a hundred years.

    Here is not the place to go into an exhaustive discussion of the Romantic Movement in Britain, especially its fatal undermining of form which has hardly received any attention at all. It is enough to point out, in this context, that Shelley's 'Defense of Poetry' is not a defense of written poetry. In fact anything that advances the best interests of the human race is here judged to be poetic. Saving a spoil heap from destruction or a butterfly reservation from being torn up to make way for a car park would satisfy Shelley's criteria.

    The greatest 'philosopher' of the Fine Arts of all time was, beyond doubt, G W  Hegel. It is scarcely imaginable a single individual was able, in one lifetime, to unite so many diverse strands. And yet the collective achievements of the English romantics add up to something more than even Hegel could encompass.

   Hegel was always chary of contemporary romanticism: he took it at its face value, a movement that had turned its back on civil society for mere surface greenery. Yet he chose to retain the term, throwing it back in the face of the Romantic Movement by grounding romanticism in the rise of the individual subject two millennia previously. It is not unfair to say that the mere mention of unmediated nature made Hegel's flesh creep: the starry heavens he described as a 'gleaming leprosy of the sky'.

    And yet I have a problem in explaining how the sentiments contained in Wordsworth's rekindling of the dying embers of experience expressed through the power of words, found an echo in me far away from the 'unmediated' sylvan beauty of the river Wye and the Lake District. What Wordsworth experienced I also lived but I was also uneasy with his line of reasoning. Until, that is, I began to uncover different explanations providing a much needed material basis to Wordsworth's nature rhapsodies. In the Lakes the land had not yet been enclosed nor had aristocratic rule gained much of a footing, allowing Wordsworth to speak of 'a visionary republic of the hills,' an artless democracy of the people right down to, and including, nondescript blades of grass. Read against this background, which Wordsworth was largely unconscious of; his 'intimations of immortality' is as an unsatisfactory metaphysic, though lines like 'splendour in the grass' will ring for evermore. And yet 'the visionary gleam that has gone' touched a chord deep within me because it was also my experience.

      And so it was that when I came across John Clare, a similar deadening in his responses met with a more ready appreciation, because it is interwoven with the progress of enclosure. In Clare there are two natures, one prior to enclosure, the other a post enclosure landscape of fences, no trespassing notices, felled trees and rectangularity where roads proceed directly from A to B, and winding streams are straightened out to suit the chequer board pattern of fields. To Clare enclosure was like trapping nature in a cage, fundamentally altering in particular animal nature which, like all prisoners, desires henceforth only to be let loose.

    Clare was the 'last romantic' of any real  consequence and had no time for the revolutionary enthusiasms of  Wordsworth, Southey, Shelley or Byron though the latter's philandering and pugilism appealed to him, describing  himself in his 'madness' as 'boxer Byron' and not, note well, the poet Byron. But with Clare poetry always retained an integral formality almost to the point of tedium. Yet he was pushed, despite himself, beyond his self imposed limitations. From amongst his many jottings, another Clare is beginning to emerge, the naturalist John Clare as acute as Gilbert White and stepping beyond the role of poet which his madness constantly threatened to also do. This Clare has been recognised for example by the botanist Ritter who has greatly benefited from his detailed field observations of flowers that will bloom no more in the intensively farmed  Northhants countryside. In fact it was an article in the journal of the Soil Association in 1964 that first drew attention to the other Clare, the naturalist and ecologist, two years after the publication of Rachel Carson's epochal 'Silent Spring'.

Memories of the landscapes of our youth were revived in us; as we searched for the Dingy Skipper on spoil heaps, railway sidings and embankments. But this time it was not a subjective loss but an actual one, and nothing to do with growing older, when the privileged, and never to be repeated, perceptions of childhood and early youth, gradually yield to age. I recall, during the early 1980s, how I followed the cinder path from Heighington Station and stood on the bluff overlooking the Aycliffe Trading Estate. Once there had been a flight of wooden steps and I remember picking Elephant Hawk caterpillars from the willow herb growing at the foot of the steps. Though I rode along the path many times one occasion still stands out, to the exclusion of practically all others. It was around seven on a sunny evening during the mid 1950s and as I cycled along I became aware of the Dingy Skippers starting up in front of me as I disturbed their repose in the sun's dying rays. And now in 1983 all that lay before us was a scene of desolation we could only joke about to hide our grief: the barrow like spoil heaps that once hid the war time munitions factories  and on which we played as children and then explored as budding lepidopterists in our early teens, had now gone. Instead there  was a large Flymo factory where no Dingy Skippers would ever dart about or birds nest on.

       Curious to learn more about Clare I read whatever I could get hold of. In one of his autobiographical notes he listed as one of his childhood games 'making house of sticks, clay and stones'. And from an early age we would endeavour to construct, drawn into these abandoned lands by the freedom from surveillance and the amount of waste material left lying over from the war. It was nothing short of an imaginative heaven. On one extensive mound stretching for well over a mile, we cut out of the thick covering of gorse a labyrinth of passages we could escape into should the police ever start to pay too much attention to us - it was right next to the Durham Constabulary. Pretty soon these secret passages became rabbit runs and, once overgrown with grass, a safe place in which to feed and a haven from raptors like Kestrels. Did any other animals ever use them, I wonder? Running through them I would often surprise a flock of Goldfinches. And when the local hunt was in full cry, the foxes would make for railway property for here they were much safer. As a child, I vividly remember a fox running into our backyard through the back door and out the front, straight onto the railway lines, to escape the pursuing hounds.

       Out looking for the Dingy Skipper in the April  2004 at Penistone, I surprised a couple of young lads dragging lengths of timber into a grove of goat willows. I could hear the sound of their hammering and excited yells as I photographed the Dingy Skipper on the surrounding acres of trefoil and balls of clinker that had obviously rolled, molten hot, out of a blast furnace that had once stood on this site. I was in a state of high excitement myself but I still wanted to take a look at what they were constructing. Fearing I might be an official, the youths would break off to check on my whereabouts. Little did they guess that a week earlier we pensioned children had also been hiding in Healey Mills marshalling yards for a full hour from officialdom in a ditch whilst out searching for the Dingy Skipper. More fetchingly still we were using the same ditches we hid out in as kids of ten, ever alert to the watchful eye of the signal cabin. I was still playing the same game when, later on in August, out hunting the Grayling in the same marshalling yards, I was pursued by a posse of maintenance workers out to apprehend me. I eluded them with ease only to find one fifty yards in front with his back toward me. I instantly hurled myself down a bank side, getting badly nettled in the process. But I had evaded capture and also got some remarkable video footage of Grayling in the yards. I will be back!

      Access to these sites of industrial dereliction is becoming increasingly difficult. Having fallen into disuse they rapidly become an informal commons. With each passing spoil heap, the points of similarity to the commons of old have become more apparent. We began to refer to the 'new enclosures', a term we may have unwittingly lifted from the anti-globalisation movement. There is a major difference however. Today's industrial commons are unofficial recreational and play spaces but they are not a means to survival which made past enclosures, not only here but elsewhere, such a painful, traumatic event in world history. Really the discovery of the separateness of childhood as of nature dates from that event. From Clare to Blake and his 'Songs of Innocence' and doomed youth there runs a thread connecting country to town, as the rural proletariat is driven from the land into urban areas and the most slavish, abject employment imaginable. At this point also nature as an external category is born because on the commons it was not a question of nature here and man there but of a far deeper connection we can scarcely conceive of but which must be recovered on a higher level.

David  & Stuart Wise. 2004-5