Morning and the Tour of Britain stage 4 finale Gateshead to Beast Banks Kendal is scheduled for mid-afternoon. Preparations are well underway and the logistics of making ready for such a major sporting event are impressive. The police have searched the area. Bins all sealed. A personal highlight is meeting the Cumbrian Police Dog Unit, talking with one of the team and watching thirteen week old Ripley, a Belgian Malinois, with her police handler. Ripley will be what the unit calls a big dog, a general purpose police dog,
Wet and windy is daily fare through summer and into autumn. The weather forecast told of rain. The clag was down, the horizon of fells blotted out. Ground saturated over recent weeks, an excursion to Silver How was off. I ponder my last visit there in February. And cosily at home, we consider clag and the water cycle. Who talks of clag and what does it signify?
House martins on the wing above the bell tower of All Saints Church, Culgaith, beside the River Eden. Views of Cross Fell. ' Eden for sale', reads a billboard. If only the search for the lost garden were so simple. Norse place-names tell of Viking invasions. Successive waves of settlers who bequeath to us their farming traditions, their DNA, their language and their poetry. A civilisation on the cusp of Christianity and the tug of it is written into the map .
Contrast the awesome beauty of cloudscapes over Scout Scar this morning with an August of unsettled weather, of sudden heavy downpours.
Consider the skies over the burning Amazonian forest. Over the burning boreal forests of Siberia, the taiga.
Remember Okjokull, an Icelandic glacier lost ten years ago to rising temperatures.
'This monument is to acknowledge that we know what is happening and what needs to be done. Only you will know if we did it.' So reads the commemorative plaque.
A mile to Kendal, says the milestone. From over the wall came a chuntering. A dog appeared, helped over the stile by his owner who followed in a flow of expletives. Well, the same one really. Something about the wife of the Norse God Odin, Frigg by name. ' I was going to make an f---ing pond today but the concrete wouldn’t set.' He lambasted the rain and louring clouds. Enough of a summer of extremes- extreme heat followed by a long period of unsettled weather- downpours. We've had enough.
Flowers were crowded with pollinators: painted ladies, small skipper and a throng of bees. All interest was focused on this sole clump of knapweed on a still and sultry morning. The painted ladies looked fresh and bright. Two or three weeks ago those on Scout Scar were worn and faded. Painted ladies make an awesome migration, from North Africa. With staging posts as they head north, they make landfall and breed along the way. They're strong fliers but butterflies so perfect will not be the generation that set out earlier this year. A map of weather and its effect on this year's stages of migration would be good.
There were several painted ladies nectaring on the knapweed. And lots more in the locality on garden buddleia. This is said to be an exceptionally good summer for painted ladies. So far, I've seen numbers but not more than last summer.
Cycling is a healthy sport, that's the image. But what is the environmental impact of The Tour Of Britain? The question is urgent because the Tour will finish at Beast Banks, Kendal, in September 2019. A finish witnessed by 10,000 spectators in 2016 at this same location. A splendid sporting event but with such numbers involved robust procedures should be in place , before permissions are given, to minimize the environmental impact. So what was the problem in 2016?
Fragrance of meadow sweet, purple loosestrife and greater willowherb. The sussuration of tall reeds with dragonflies and butterflies flitting across our path. Stepping over puddles on a hot and steamy afternoon. Chirrups and squawks from deep in high-summer vegetation. Speckled wood, of the sylvan fringe transfixed with sunlight and shadow. Our path through the reed beds to the hide and a tranquil scene looking out across the water.
Whitbarrow is a prime butterfly site. The limestone cliff of White Scar faces south and on the hottest day on record, Thursday 25th July, there would have been a butterfly spectacle toward the foot of the cliff. Our field-trip is two days later, temperatures nearer a July norm. Rain set in later in the morning. And persisted. How about a virtual reality butterfly field-trip? What we’d see if the sun shone. What has been seen by aficionados of White Scar and Farrer’s Allotment who are our guides.
In the Alps, I was wearing a floral blouse and butterflies settled on me. The attraction was not the floral print.
'I didn’t need a floral blouse to be overtaken by butterflies yesterday......
.....craving salt, they massed on my sweaty rucksac, pole handles and me!
As I took the welcome shade of a large limestone boulder high up on the alti plano alp where marmots burrowed and screeched a warning of my presence the butterflies descended. I was mobbed!
The arrival of small skipper takes me by surprise. No longer a pioneer patrolling territory, looking for females, but a fresh brood visiting a specific clump of flowering thistles, nectaring and mating. Surprised, since the weather seemed inauspicious for butterflies, the afternoon was cloudy, with showers forecast and a breeze stirred the vegetation. But the new brood was lively about these chosen thistles in tall seeding grasses. Small skipper were abroad, numbers of them..
For everything a season. Today, it’s small skipper. A rush of small skipper. The first time I came upon a brood was five years ago on knapweed at Simpson Ground, south-east of Windermere.
Kendal Fell, who goes there? This summer we are asked how we use Kendal Fell and how we'd like to see it managed. Last week's meeting clashed with another held by the LIb Dems on the Climate Emergency, so I went for the latter. Biodiversity was a theme linking both.
What did we seek on Kendal Fell on this July day, and whom did we meet? A farmer made hay ( these days it may be haylage or silage) while the sun shone
Six-spot burnet moth is a striking creature. In flight, the insect is a blur of fast-beating wings and a flash of scarlet and black. Mating is leisurely and can last for hours. This morning, broods of soldier beetles were out and about, tumbling and climbing all over each other, mating and feeding.
This summer on Scout Scar the unsettled weather is in contrast to last summer's heat-wave, affecting flora and butterflies and their behaviour. My blog archive for July 2018 shows a very different picture.
Swindale Beck meanders through deep pools, fast-moving shallows and deep gravels where salmon and brown trout lay their eggs. In July, its flood plain of flower-rich meadows has drifts of melancholy thistle, with eyebright, yellow rattle, sneezewort, saw- wort, wood cranesbill and ragged robin. ‘ A suite of meadows’ along the course of the beck.
We hear of the farming community some two hundred years ago when Swindale Beck was made straight. It’s ‘an anthropogenic landscape’ says Lee Schofield, RPSB site-manager.
Wind-shear and streaming cloud over ScouT Scar. Yellow hawkbit and catsear on rising ground where sunlight falls. The first thistles open to the sun and a fresh brood of small skipper comes seeking pollen and nectar.
Alarm calls from the tree- tops and a great clamour. The jays have a young family. The adults will take eggs and young birds and warning signals sound as the young jays beg for food and take flying lessons. Sunlight pours through the canopy, dazzling.
A creature appears in the gateway to the stubble field, masked by long grass, long ears erect, it lopes off along the track to Bradleyfield Farm. A hare is a rare sighting here and in that startling first moment we took it for a dog, a small deer. So unexpected it was.
Tuesday was cool, with a breeze. Too cold for larger butterflies. Micro moths flying. I find two common blue, like displaced petals on scabious. So tiny. They have not yet warmed up enough to fly.
'You were a nature writer long before you declared yourself to be one,' said Frances.
Long before I decided to publish my work, to share the fun of finding things.
Her words reminded me of an excursion to the Black Mountains, 27th July 1992. I reflect on how being a nature writer has changed over that time.
To interpret butterflies on Scout Scar in late June I am alert to season, to when new broods emerge and to the way the morning's weather develops. A blaze of blue sky with a mid-morning breeze that is pleasant. Micro-moths about drifts of yellow hawkbit. Painted ladies scarcely settle. A glimpse of common blue and fritillary but larger butterflies are restless. Someone sees an adder or was it a slow worm? By late morning there comes a surge of hot and humid air, a reminder that France suffers with a record temperature of 46.9 degrees.
Eyebright and yellow rattle are key plants of the flower-rich hay meadows of Dentdale. Hemi-parasitic, they work their magic secretly, tapping into grass roots to take up nutrients and water, weakening their host grasses to give traditional flowers of the hay meadow an opportunity to thrive. Eyebright and yellow rattle are annuals so their seed must set before the meadow is mown, in mid-July.
This morning, Farming Today casts further light on the importance of hay meadows and their traditional management. On either side of the River Dee there are meadows and we pass farmhouses and barns, a pastoral landscape. Rising in the distance, the moors and uplands where a hundred years ago curlew bred, a ground-nesting bird in dramatic decline. The curlew habit has changed and now the bird breeds increasingly in hay meadows, requiring some two months to incubate and rear its young. No topping or mowing during that time.
At Waitby Greenriggs, fragrance of flowers after rain, elusive fragrances. Marsh helleborine are a speciality but we were too early and found only flower-stems with pale buds. The surprise was globe flowers, a bank thick with them. And the white flowers of lesser butterfly orchid. There were Northern marsh orchid, tway blade, common spotted orchid, fragrant orchid, a fly orchid and hybrids various. A few tiny flowers of bird’s-eye primrose grew on the limestone bank above the disused railway line, and in the ditch. Yellow rattle in abundance. Frog hoppers lurked in cuckoo spit, like bubble wrap about flower stems.
Jan Wiltshire is a nature writer living in Cumbria. She also explores islands and coast and the wildlife experience. (See Home and My Books.)