On a beautiful morning in late August the sun poured through the flowers of Smardale Ghyll and bees and butterflies foraged for nectar and pollen. This small tortoiseshell sank its proboscis into the scabious to feed. It has been such a wet summer that flora grows tall and rank and whilst some flowers are fading fast there are green buds of scabious yet to come. Rose-bay willow herb gave a splash of colour and great burnet grew tall and stately, its deep colour contrasting with the delicate scabious.
Our visit to Side Farm, Patterdale, took place on a beautiful August day, sandwiched between stormy weather on Saturday and Sunday evening. Robin, who farms at Side Farm and Beck Stones, had had to abort silage making because of downpours and he had been out in the darkness moving his sheep and cattle to drier ground. A bright and sunny day after heavy rain shows the Lake District to perfection. Up on Place Fell becks appeared out of nowhere and cascaded off the steep fell-side. Some of them appear only after heavy rain.
Ragwort flowers are fading fast and their leaves are munched ragged by the caterpillars of cinnabar moth. The plants swarm with caterpillars in their warning colours that echo the coloration of the flowers. Tall ragwort grows in the limestone clitter. The flowers are past their best for bees and the caterpillars have taken over. I’ve been on the look-out for these caterpillars on ragwort and have not found them on Scout Scar until today. I’d love to have seen the cinnabar moth. So, the winners and losers this summer?
Last summer was so hot that flowers were done for by late July. Frazzled, gone to seed. This year, I was in the Outer Hebrides when England experienced a brief heat-wave. Unsettled weather has meant that many species of flowers are blossoming later and lasting longer. Today, I’ve been photographing patches of thistles and thinking through their pollination strategy. How do they ensure their flowers are fertilised when day after day the weather is wet and windy and pollinators can’t forage?
In summer, Smardale is remarkable for its flora which attracts a wealth of butterflies, including the Scotch Argus and Northern Brown Argus. A still day with sunshine and butterflies- that was what we hoped for. The weather forecast had indicated rain would quickly clear, but it did not. Up on Great Ewe Fell and all the way to Crosby Garrett we walked in rain and mizzle. In woodland glades beside the dismantled railway line of Smardale Ghyll, that’s where the flowers and butterflies are. But butterflies won’t appear unless the sun shines, so fingers crossed.
Ragwort or golden-tops, which do you prefer? Golden-tops was the name give to the flower by the poet John Clare and it sounds more appealing than ragwort. The Welsh Black cattle up on Scout Scar were loud this morning, but not in objection to ragwort. The cows had very young calves and they moved together as a herd to protect them. The morning was windy and the tall flowers swayed to and fro and the red-tailed bumble bees clung on. Look closely at the images and you can see their hooked feet.
Jan Wiltshire is a nature writer living in Cumbria. She also explores islands and coast and the wildlife experience. (See Home and My Books.)