A neon waltz

FD may blog-2

Farthing Downs, London, May 2014

I sit on a path new and slight, pressed into the grasses. Last year I sat in a spot close by under the shade of ash trees watching a willow warbler make return visits to a nest down in the brambles. Now the brink of a small copse of trees has gone, the bird, perhaps returning, may have decided this was no longer a place to raise young. In the absence of willow warblers, brimstone butterflies, perhaps reaching double figures, mark the new space of downland that has been reopened from the folds of trees. The piles of logs and branches stacked in the iron beds are still here, yet to be burned or hedged. I like that slowness, that I can come back some months later and no one has felt too pushed to tidy the place up.

A male and female brimstone fly together and then fall down amongst the twigs and low, woody brambles. I’m interested to see what they’re doing so I get up and have a look. They’re mating, bodies bent round, facing away from each other. They part. High in the sky, against the blue and its herring and lesser black-backed gulls circling on thermals, a huge flock. I wonder why, I wonder what for. Down here with me the female brimstone is again on the wing, met by a band of battling males. They pass her and are turned immediately onto her, each forgetting their quarrel and targeting the paler female. This is the perfect reflection of the adult butterfly’s life: the males seek as many females as they can; the female, having mated, defends herself from latecomers as she strives to find the right plant for egg-laying. The males attack her, but she breaks free, up into the sky. She is not free of them. The four males cloud her, their colours so close as they gain height that all sense of defence has disappeared into a neon waltz. They go up, up and over my head to the world of gulls and warm air rising.

© Daniel James Greenwood 2014

Hutchinson’s Bank butterflies

On Saturday (9th June 2012) London Wildlife Trust and the Old Surrey Downs Project held the annual Hutchinson’s Bank open day. With the Heritage Lottery Funded From Thorn to Orchid Project, Hutchinson’s Bank has been managed instensively by both local and travelling volunteers over the past 12 months to remove the encroaching scrub of young trees which, if left unchecked, will shade-out the foodplants of a diverse array of butterflies. Here are some of the butterflies encountered on the day, many of which will thrive thanks to the ongoing management of the 35 acre reserve. The small blue and dingy skipper are two butterflies suffering severe declines nationally.

Small blue (Cupido minimus)

Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni)

Green hairstreak (Callophrys rubi)

Dingy skipper (Erynnis tages)

Small heath (Coenonympha pamphilus)

Common blue (Polyommatus icarus)