Posted in Gardens

A bar for the bees

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Photo by Palo Cech on Pexels.com

At the time of writing, it’s early days of lockdown and I don’t know how long it will last or whether it will get even worse than it is now. Like many people, I have a lot of worries about it but I’m aiming to live in the present and make much use of my time indoors and in my garden.

Today I decided to grow my Bee Bar Grow Bar. It’s a bee-friendly coconut fibre bar of hyssop, verbena and lavender seeds. I received it as a Christmas present and have been planning to plant it for the last three months.

Happily all packaging can be recycled and the coconut fibre is a sustainable alternative to peat.

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I grew this in March, the instructions say to start it between February and June so this is good timing hopefully.

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I placed the bar in a container and then poured half a litre of water into the tray. When it was nearly dry, I poured more water into the tray and have left it next to my patio door where it should receive sunlight and heat.

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Apparently in a few weeks my bar will have little seedlings and these will grow for a further month before being ready for separation and planting. So I will be keeping a careful eye on both my kitchen herb seeds and this bee-friendly bar of lavender, hyssop and verbena.

P. S Thank you very much Caroline for this thoughtful present! 😀

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Photo by Palo Cech on Pexels.com

 

 

Posted in Fitness challenges, Walks

Preston Guild Wheel: Part 2

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It was raining, my friend was too ill to join me on my Preston Guild Wheel walk, I was alone and wondering if I would get bored and then…

I saw a deer (pictured below). Of course, with my rather average camera phone, it doesn’t look like one unless you enlarge it and then you might see a little blob. But it really was a deer and I saw it with my own eyes. This part of the walk is suburbia but a path leads onto a large open space of green that has been left for people and dogs to enjoy, and wildlife to live. The Woodland Trust looks after part of it.

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This curiosity (below), and others like it, can be found in the parkland. I think it’s an ‘insect hotel’ for bees etc to live.

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The Guild Wheel took me through both a natural and industrial landscape.

Sometimes it was a path with railings on either side, hiding behind were factories and offices.

Other times it took me on a detour of beautiful greenery – despite a motorway just minutes away.

Along the way, I entered the exterior of Preston Crematorium, a peaceful place, and continued along a tree-lined path which took me to Brockholes Nature Reserve.

But first I encountered the now disused site of Courtaulds, a manufacturer of rayon. Built in 1939 and closed in 1979, it was the largest site in Britain to produce rayon (according to Wikipedia). At its peak, 4,000 people were employed there and when it closed in 1979, 2,800 jobs were lost (Keith Johnson, Cherished Memories of Old Mansion and Rise of Industry, https://www.lep.co.uk ).

There also used to be an old mansion in this area but alas, it is no more.

It always surprises me how brown belt land often seems to be reclaimed by nature.

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The trail continues towards Boilton Wood, neighboured by Nab, Redcar and Tunbrook Woodlands. Boilton Wood is a site of special scientific interest and forms part of the biggest stretch of ancient woodland in Lancashire (information from Visit Preston website).

When I reached Brockholes Nature Reserve, I spotted this delightful fellow.

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And another colourful resident can be seen here…

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Brockholes is a fabulous and unusual 250-acre nature reserve, owned by the Wildlife Trust. It’s such a peaceful natural haven that you wouldn’t think it is so near to the M6 but it is. The former gravel quarry actually supplied materials to build the motorway and only opened in 2011, after being bought by the trust in 2007.

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‘Village in the Reeds’ Photograph by Jim Beattie. Courtesy of The Lancashire Wildlife Trust. http://www.brockholes.org

It’s located on a flood plain of the River Ribble so has a unique floating visitor village!

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After a delightful and filling leek and potato soup at the cafe, I continued the last mile along the River Ribble to the Tickled Trout Hotel in Samlesbury. I was lucky enough to have a lovely pastoral river view from the room window, and was able to watch the cows munching the grass alongside the River Ribble.

I was glad I embarked on this journey after all!

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Part 3 coming soon..

(For more information about Brockholes, visit https://www.brockholes.org)

 

Posted in Environment, Travel, places to visit, mini-adventures, Walks

A wander around the RSPB’s Sandwell Valley Nature Reserve

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The West Midlands, especially around Birmingham, has a reputation of being a built-up, urbanised sprawl – but there are some rather idyllic parts here too.

One such peaceful haven is Sandwell Valley Nature Reserve. I was lucky enough to visit here one sunny October day and here are some of the beautiful views I saw…

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As well as the beautiful scenery, wildlife we spotted today (mostly at the hide overlooking the lake) included heron, swans, coots, cormorants, lapwings and gulls.

My godchildren especially enjoyed the mud kitchen, making mudpies (yum, delicious!), the bat trail and a nearby children’s playground.

Even where there are large cities – this site is close to Birmingham after all – there is always natural beauty nearby.

Facts of the Day

1. RSPB Sandwell Valley was once used by the nearby colliery.

2. There are a variety of habitats including wildflower meadows, woodland, scrub, wildlife garden, ponds and lake.

3. The site is based around Forge Mill Lake and is part of Sandwell Valley Country Park.

4. The address is: RSPB Sandwell Valley, Tanhouse Ave, Great Barr, West Bromwich, Birmingham B43 5AG.

5. For more information on the RSPB, visit http://www.rspb.org.uk/

 

 

Posted in Gardens

The hebe jeebies…

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A few weeks ago, after a visit to a garden centre, I came back with this delightful plant – a purple shamrock hebe. I like the colour purple, shamrocks and hebes so what’s not to like? And even better, my garden co-sharers love hebes too.

Who do I share my garden with? Well, a whole host of birds, butterflies, bees, other insects….

So here’s a few facts I have learnt about my new container plant, thanks to the very informative label which came with it.

1. It’s compact and hardy with variegated leaves.

2. It was discovered by Doug Thomson in Ireland. (I imagine that’s where the name ‘shamrock’ comes from). This variety may be from Ireland, but most hebes originally come from New Zealand.

3. In summer, there are occasional blue flowers.

4. In winter, the evergreen foliage turns purple.

5. It likes moist, well-drained soil.

According to Wildlife Gardening by Christine and Michael Lavelle, the hebe is popular with ‘bees and butterflies seeking nectar’. So a good choice for wildlife-friendly gardens. 🦋🦋🦋

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Posted in Environment, Environmental issues

Our World: Threat to ancient forests in England

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Quite rightly, the world condemned the Brazilian Government for destroying the country’s precious rainforests – home for indigenous people and wildlife alike. It is also a vital part of the planet’s ecosystem, which affects all of us.

The UK Government was among those voicing disapproval.

Most British politicians like to claim to be ‘green’ but, in my view, only when it suits. (I’m sure there will be genuine ones who care about people, animals and the environment but I can’t think of any, please let me know if you do).

There is much talk of climate change but what’s the point of discussing this topic if trees keep getting replaced with concrete?

I do think investment in public transport is a fantastic thing. We need fewer cars on the road but if there isn’t a viable alternative, why would people give up their vehicles?

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So, when I first heard of of the HS2 project, it sounded a good idea. Investment in our train service? I’m all for that… Good for people, good for the environment…

Oh.

Maybe not.

The HS2 – which could cost £85 billion, £30 billion over budget – is supposed to make the train journey from London to the North of England quicker.

But it will be at a cost of 34 ancient woods, 56 hectares, along the London to Birmingham leg of the route. And that’s just the start of the destruction…. It’s thought more than 100 of these woods are under threat in total.

The contractors are due to start felling the trees next month, even though a spending review is underway and this expensive project may not even go ahead.

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According to the Woodland Trust, if the woodland destruction goes ahead, this will wipe out all the barn owls ‘breeding within a mile of the new line, either by destroying their habitat or collisions with trains’. That’s more than 100 owls, ‘an estimated one per cent of the UK population’.

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Photo by mark broadhurst on Pexels.com

Another rare species is Bechstein’s Bat, which roosts ‘among the remnants of the medieval forest of Bernwood, now under threat’.

The intelligent thing to do would be to use the money to improve the existing railway and make public transport in general more affordable and reliable.

But I sometimes wonder about the intelligence of those running the country and unfortunately, while Brexit distracts the electorate, billions of pounds will be wasted and a vital habitat will be vandalised.

And for what? A slightly quicker journey to London?

So maybe it isn’t just the Brazilian Government which is guilty of environmental vandalism and crimes against precious forests…

For more information and to sign a petition, please visit https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/hs2

 

Posted in Environment, Travel, places to visit, mini-adventures, Walks

A Day on the Dunes

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Saltfleetby-Theddlethorpe Dunes, near Louth in Lincolnshire, is a very peaceful seaside spot. Instead of sandcastles, ice cream and sunbathers, there are mudflats and ponds, salt marshes, wildflowers and sand dunes.

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Natural England manages the 556-hectare National Nature Reserve section, while Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust manages the remainder of the area.

When we first entered the reserve, we walked along a path through wildflower-rich grassland, encountering ponds en route. This walkway took us to the dunes and saltmarsh.

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It is an important site for wildlife. We didn’t see any Natterjack toads but did come across many insects, including grasshoppers, butterflies and dragonflies.

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By holding out a stragically placed stick, Simon rescued a struggling dragonfly who was in danger of drowning in one of the ponds.

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We also came across two discarded dragonfly larval cases – they weren’t dead, they were skins of two nymphs (juvenile). Once the juvenile is ready to become an adult, they cast off their old skin. They are well prepared for this life-changing event, with a new skin underneath.

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As well as nature’s dramas, the remnants of military history can be found on this reserve, in particular the beach… Today we can still see a corroded Comet tank and a ruined pillbox, dating from the Second World War.

 

The Air Ministry bought the site in the 1930s and old vehicles, that had been driven onto the beach, were used as targets. The dunes were mined and pillbox built during the Second World War as an anti-invasion defence.

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Being here reveals how the landscape changes over time. It is thought that the dunes began forming in the 1200s after large storms blew sand and shingle and, even now, the tides and wind is changing the landscape slowly but surely. New saltmarsh and dunes are still being created today and Simon told me he saw a difference from the last time he was there.

At certain times of the year, seals can be found with their pups along the coast. The adult seals don’t look as cute as you might think, being big and clumsy and even a little violent with each other (the males at least). The babies are very cute but, of course, it is advisable not to go near and disturb them.

In July though, there are no seals but we did come across this poignant sight… A seal’s skull.

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A purple orchid

It is a lovely quiet area, I even came across a comment on an internet beach forum saying it was an ideal place to go for a naked walk and skinny dipping!

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For more information on The Wildlife Trusts, visit http://wildlifetrusts.org

Posted in Environment, Environmental issues

Our World: Watership Down

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Many, many years ago, I started to watch a film called Watership Down. It was a cartoon and, as a child, I assumed it was a children’s film. But I found the beginning traumatic and subsequently didn’t watch the rest of the film. I’m sure it featured rabbits being killed and, as an eight year old with rabbits of my own, it wasn’t what I particularly wanted to watch.

Fast-forward many years later and I bought the book in a charity shop. It’s about a group of rabbits whose home is lost because of, you guessed it, humans and their ‘need’ to develop fields.

Now I find Watership Down a sad book in a different way. Whenever I see the countryside being built on, I wonder about the wildlife that may have used that land to live, feed…

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And yes, before I am called a ‘nimby’, I accept that we all live in a house once built on green land and people need houses to live in.

My issue is not the building on some green fields but the extent of which it seems to be taking place today.

There are so many brown field sites, once built on and now standing as an eyesore, and empty, derelict buildings. These could be revamped, making our towns and cities a more vibrant and pleasant place. Win win for humans – and wildlife. 

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Photo by mali maeder on Pexels.com

If I had power, when it came to building on green belt land and rural areas, I would make it a law that housing developers would have to set aside, not just an recreational open green space for people, but a sizeable additional area as a nature reserve. Why take away homes for wildlife when creating houses for people?

Why does it have to be an either/or scenario with wildlife inevitably losing out? It’s well known that much of Britain’s wildlife is decreasing because of habitat loss.

Living in a greener, more natural environment is good for people’s mental health too.

Yet another win/win!

And as for Watership Down? I haven’t finished the novel yet, but I’m hoping there is a happy ending and the rabbits do find a new home, away from the threat of the bulldozer.

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Posted in Environment, Environmental issues

Our World: A dangerous one for badgers

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I’ve never seen a live badger except in photos or television. Being shy, retiring and nocturnal animals, it’s unlikely I will ever just bump into one on the off-chance but I did see the curious sight of a badger sett. At least that is what it looked like.

Simon and I were out for a walk along a wooded path, in Lincolnshire, when we came across a mound of earth on a sloping bank. I was about to walk on, not thinking anything of it, but Simon wanted to investigate further. Behind the mound was a large hole, much bigger than a rabbit’s or even a fox’s.

We believe it was a badger’s sett.

I have heard that setts (badger homes) tend to have large spoil heaps outside, which this one did.

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Unfortunately the British Government appear to be on a mission to kill badgers because of tb fears for cattle. The fact there is a vaccine available for cows and a vaccine available for badgers appears to have been ignored. Tb may even be caused by cows moving around – maybe increased, temporary bio-security measures may be the answer?  

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I do have sympathy for farmers and cattle but I’m sure there must be a better way of combating this issue.

I feel it’s wrong, especially when there are other solutions, and how could it ever work? There will always be badgers, unless the plan is to decimate the entire population? (Surely that would be highly immoral!)

And what if there are other causes and all these badgers have been killed and still tb continues?

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Even worse is the issue of badger baiting. This is thankfully banned but unfortunately undesirables (I’m sorry but there is no other way of describing them) are still baiting the poor creatures with dogs.

Yes, unfortunately even in this ‘enlightened’ age, this happens.

This is barbaric and cruel, both to badgers and dogs.

Maybe one day, the world may be a kinder place for these creatures. I hope so.

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Facts of the Day

1. Badgers live in large family groups.

2. Setts are mostly in woodland, near to open areas and often on a slope.

3. Badgers are relatives of the weasel.

Posted in Environment, Gardens, Gardens, lifestyle, self-sufficiency, environmental issues, adventure

Flashback: A wildlife garden in August

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Simon’s garden is the opposite of neat and manicured – and this is all for the better as it is a shared garden, used by both locals and residents living further away. And these users – birds, insects, reptiles, butterflies and mammals – appreciate his garden, coming back to feed and drink, or living there quite happily. I’m rather envious of this as my garden doesn’t attract quite as many different species as Simon’s. Woodpeckers, blackcaps, wood warblers, goldfinches, greenfinches, frogs, blackbirds … these are just an example. So he took me on a garden tour and gave me tips along the way. We did this in August so a lot of colour had unfortunately gone, but there were still many good ideas.

The front garden

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Sink pond in the front garden, which is often used by garden birds having a ‘bath’.
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Valerian has been used as a medicinal herb since at least the time of ancient Greece. It is usually used for sleep disorders, such as insomnia.

 

 

The back garden

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Verbena. According to the Wildlife Trust, there are around 250 species of verbena. They are very useful plants providing nectar for butterflies, bees and other pollinators.
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Sink garden. At the top there is a gap caused by a plant dying in the 2018 summer drought, (even rock gardens need watering but due to the high drainage it’s difficult). There is also thrift, small leaves of thyme and a red campion seedling (weed that can be moved). Middle right, are stonecrop and thrift. Dominating slightly are the silvery leaves of dianthus (Latin name) in the middle bottom. There are a few ox eye daisies dotted around.
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Water butts capture rain water which can then be used to water plants. Very handy, especially in a drought. A water butt is something I keep meaning to buy.
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Buddleia, echinacea, crocosmia and evening primrose
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Crocosmia, valerian and red campion
Above left, black Niger seed attracts goldfinches. A plastic bottle prevents rats, mice and squirrels from climbing up. Above right, a plant pot collects leftovers from peanuts. Often birds can be found in the plant pot, enjoying their breakfast leftovers!
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The main pond, with frogbit on the surface and wormwood in the foreground. At the back, behind the stone turtle, is a frog hideaway. Simon has three ponds altogether – two in the back garden and a small sink pond in the front, often used by birds for washing.
A visitor and probable resident – woodpecker and frog. Simon has rescued tadpoles from elsewhere on a couple of occasions, when the water levels have dropped because of the weather or the pond has become stagnant. They lived in a second hand aquarium in his house until ready to move into the garden pond.
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Nest boxes in an old tree. Several birds have lived – and reared their young here – over the years.

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Fig tree
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Flower of Kent apple tree. This is the variety of apple Isaac Newton saw falling to the ground in 1666 – and inspired his theory of gravity.

Facts of the Day

1. The single easiest way to add wildlife value to a garden is to install a pond. It doesn’t matter how small. Consider adding a plank of wood to help any wildlife that might fall in.
2. If you want to grow vegetables, it’s best to stop using chemical pesticides. These upset the natural balance and can be lethal for wildlife (and not just the ‘pests’. 
3. A compost heap is an essential for a wildlife garden. It cuts down the waste sent to landfill and provides a habitat for a number of insects – which can be a good food source for hedgehogs and other animals.
(Facts from The Wildlife Trust: https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/gardening)
Posted in Gardens, lifestyle, self-sufficiency, environmental issues, adventure

Search for a swallowtail

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Some years ago, I picked up a paperback copy of The Butterfly Isles, by Patrick Barkham, in my local library for the amazingly cheap price of 10p. It recounts a nature lover’s quest for every British species of butterfly in one year. Before I read this book, I classed every butterfly as either ‘pretty’ or ‘beautiful’.

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A small white I could reasonably guess at as they are, yes, small and white. A tortoiseshell, peacock and red admiral, while stunningly colourful and beautiful, looked the same to me and as for a swallowtail, wasn’t that an accessory attached to a swallow’s body?

But over the last few years, through practical observation, guidance, and books,  I began to learn about the various breeds, their colours and patterns, habitat and food. I began to distinguish between a red admiral and a peacock and an orange tip and a small white. Although there is still a long way to go and I am still very much a novice when it comes to learning about nature.

According to Patrick, there are 59 Butterfly species in Britain, more than 500 in Europe, 7,000 in South America and oh, only about 18,000 in the world in total!

And one of the rarest in this country is the flamboyant Swallowtail. Pale yellow and black wings, with a black margin around them, its hindwings have short tails and a blue and red fake eye.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

There are plenty of good reasons to visit the Norfolk Broads, but if you are a keen lepidopterist (someone who studies butterflies and moths) or general nature lover and it’s June, odds are you will want to spot the elusive Swallowtail. It’s a tight window to see them and Norfolk is the only V. I.P venue they will wish to appear to their fans.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Their habitat is marshy meadows so the likes of the Fens and Broads are its natural habitats.

So we – Simon and I – were in Norfolk, at the end of June. Like super fans waiting for a glimpse of our favourite star, while we walked and explored and steered a boat on the Broads, ate out in pub gardens and even when sitting in our cottage backyard, playing a game of draughts (me, losing, yet again), we were always on the lookout.

It was during a prolonged heatwave and there was hardly a breeze. The conditions could not be better. And we glimpsed many dragonflies and damselflies, heard warblers and sighted marsh harriers and grey lag geese and lost count of the various meadow browns and painted ladies and speckled woods and small whites fluttering by along the reeds.

But no Swallowtail.

Towards the end of the week-long break, we came across a sign advertising Wildlife Cruises at Horsey Mere.

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Well, why not?

So, after a short walk, we boarded the small vessel and listened eagerly to the guide who told us that he hoped we would see a swallowtail today.

And the odd thing is we were convinced that if we were lucky enough to spot one, it would be during a walk at a nature reserve (Patrick Barkham saw his at Hickling Broad Nature Reserve, one of the sites we visited).

And it was on that boat, listening to the chatty wildlife guide telling us about his mother’s experience with the dreaded horse flies, that I saw a black shape glide in the air in the far distance.

Was it a bird? Was it a bat? Was it…

‘It’s a swallowtail!’ The couple next to me alerted us all.

Poor Simon! He was at the other side of the vessel looking in the opposite direction. By the time he was over, the large butterfly, which seemed almost like a bird to me, was gone.

‘You saw a swallowtail and I didn’t,’ Simon grudgingly said, with envy in his voice.

But then there was a loud exclamation – from Simon, no less.

‘A swallowtail!’

As you can see from the lack of personal pictures, I did not manage to capture either of the two moments on film. Nor did Simon. But we do count ourselves very lucky to see this rare butterfly.

Many species of butterfly are in decline so if you have a garden, even a balcony or window box, I’d strongly suggest researching plants to attract them. It’s good for your health and soul too to see such beauty near you! And of course, butterflies are vital for the ecosystem. They aren’t just a pretty face (well, wing). I’ll go into more detail in a later blog post, but some ideas for now are buddleja, marjoram, sweet william, ivy and bird’s foot trefoil.

Have you seen a rare butterfly? Do you have a favourite?

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Facts of the Day

1. Swallowtail adults live for about a month.

2. It’s larval food plant are milk parsley, fennel and carrot.

3. The wingspan measures about 80 to 90mm.

Many thanks to Sally Morgan’s The Illustrated World Encyclopedia of Butterflies and Moths, Patrick Barkham’s The Butterfly Isles and Wildlife Gardening by Christine and Michael Lavelle.