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Posts from the ‘Insects’ Category

I Declare an International Day of Inefficiency

Swallow 2

pic CHOG

Today we call M and tell him the first Swallow has arrived. It’s a moment of joy, admiration and awe for its arduous cross continental journey. Now it is perched on the telephone wire which stretches across part of the front yard, preening each wing in turn. Not long before, it was whooping and swooping above the pond and flying low, in and out of the shippen. Its song is peppered with dolphin like clicks. I am sitting on the top step, the slate warm, feeling the sun on my face, my body slowly unwinding, finally released from being huddled, bundled and wrapped. There is a delightful din of a world waking up. Ten years ago there were almost thirty Swallows lined up on the wire by the end of the summer; each subsequent year there have been less and less.

I abandon the ‘to do’ list. I think, today will be a day of inefficiency

I experience anxiety as I hope and wonder about a mate for the Swallow arriving. And if they breed successfully will there be enough insects for them to feed their young?

The massive decline in bee populations catches the public imagination, but all insects are being put under similar pressure by loss of habitat and pesticides. In a farmland setting, loss of habitat means less wild flowers, the planting of monocultures of rye grass or other crops without provision for invertebrates. And why does this matter? Well, in a nutshell…

Biodiversity means the variety of life, in all its forms. It includes the variety of species and ecosystems (communities and interrelations of species) in the world, and also genetic variation. Human beings are dependent for their sustenance, health and well-being on fundamental biological systems and processes. This includes all of our food, many medicines and industrial products, as well as the air we breathe. Without insects and other invertebrates, human life on this planet would be impossible. The enormous diversity of life is of crucial value, providing resilience to organisms and ecosystems.

Why thank you for that, the Amateur Entomologists’ Society!

I go over to the cow field. I can hear sheep and lambs from across the valley, plaintively calling to one another. Standing there, the sky a bowl of blue, I count fourteen Buzzards above, wheeling on the thermals and crying their eerie cries. I don’t know, but I would hazard a guess that they are simply, like me, having a good time. Rabbits run in and out of the gorse bushes down the centre of the field, flashes of white and brown amongst the acid yellow and though their numbers are too plentiful (breeding like…! and no serious predators, apart from a ginger cat) who could begrudge their hoppity heaven today?

The cows are looking pretty, their ruddy coats shining in the sun. After a while they approach and both Lucy and Mary-Rose ask to be scratched. They stand happily either side of me, while Belita tentatively sniffs my face with her gentle pink nose. To think they were so terrified when they arrived and now this. Happy.

Traditional Hereford Heifers

Coming back I meet Mr. Pheasant who has made regular visits this winter. A little Wren dips in and out of a thicket, and a Wagtail, the first I’ve seen this year, sits atop the shippen roof surveying the scene.

Male Pheasant

Violets, Stitchwort and Celandine are beginning to peep out from the hedgebanks. Dandelions are waiting for the bees. Where are the bees?


I’m waiting for you bees…

I nibble on a disc of Navelwort.


I could be salad material

A bout of spontaneous seed sowing comes on…

Orlaya grandiflora

Nicotiana sylvestris

Nicotiana Lime Green

Seed sowing

Ammi majus

Cosmos sulphureus Cosmic Orange

Rudbeckia hirta Prairie Sun

Seed Sowing

Then I admire B’s artwork…

Barbed Wire Ball Artwork

Later, I lie on the grass under the big sycamore. The still bare branches reach toward a pale moon, bursting with shimmering buds. I can feel the earth is still damp and cold but the warmed grass is an eiderdown beneath me. I am lost. My eyes close.

Sycamore Buds

Sycamore Buds & Moon www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comLooking Up through a Sycamore

What about an International Day of Inefficiency? Come on, we can do it!

I did a job the other day…

In amongst moments like…

Our friend M welding the gate hinge which has been broken for years. Thank you. Hurrah.

Farm Gate Hinge

Through the Farm Gate www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comOur friend R bringing round some cucumbers from his polytunnel. Thank you. Yum, raita, tzatziki.

Cucumbers on Board

Seeing for the first time the cows using their shelter. Happy.

Traditional Herefords in Shed

Admiring the recycled rubber tyre feeders I bought from the farm shop. Threes, I love them.

Recycled Rubber Tyre Feeders

Traditional English Herefords Feeding  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comWondering when we’ll ever get that chestnut fencing done. One day.

Chestnut Fencing Stakes

Feeling sorry for a grasshopper who was desperate to get warm on the front step. Life and death.

Grasshopper on Slate

And just revelling in this shaft of sunlight that fell on the hay. Beautiful.

Shaft of Sunlight on Hay

…I did actually mend the blockhouse roof. It’s called the blockhouse because it’s built from concrete blocks. There are quite a few farm buildings and a clear naming delineation is crucial – otherwise you can find yourself run ragged looking for that piece of wire mesh, remember? (no)

It’s attached to the shippen (Cornish name for a cow barn) and is really very ugly. I had plans for its demise until we realised that any dry space is essential. You’ve got to remember that we live in a place where you get a fine coating of mould on a leather bag if you leave it in the corner of a room for longer than a month or two – and that’s in the house.

Anyway, time to introduce you to Farmers Friend – tar paint. We discovered a while back that painting strips of newspaper with it and layering it like papier mache created a totally waterproof skin. This was when we were living in the bale house during renovations – a straw bale box, clad in plywood, attached to a caravan. To link the two B used this method and it was brilliant. It allowed for a bit of movement between the two structures and we only had to replenish it in one place in eight years.

The blockhouse has had some holes in the corrugated iron roof for a while but now we want to make it more watertight as we are clearing out the shippen for the cows and some of the accumulated stuff will live in here. Very excited that the shippen will be used for its traditional purpose once again.

Mending Roof with Tar Paint

All set

Mending Roof with Tar Paint

Paint area, cover with newspaper strip.

Mending Roof with Tar Paint

Paint over with Tar Paint

Roof mended with Tar Paint and Newspaper


A Million Tiny Wings

Window Seat www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comThis morning a trio of goldfinches are clinging to the stems of the Knapweed, using them as a support to get to the real prize, the flowers of a yellow Hawksbit, just going over. I sit by the window watch them through the binoculars for a bit, transfixed by the efficient processing laboratory of their beaks, rolling and chafing the fluffy seed until they get to the kernel while discarding the rest.Goldfinches

I step outside into the sun, the air is humming with the vibration of a million tiny wings. It is scorchingly intense in this south facing mini world of the front yard, a scree slope of slate shale and old concrete with a smattering of soil. Heaven for invertebrates. A cloud of hoverflies, bees and butterflies rise up as I push my way through the yellow Scabious to get a closer look at a grasshopper. I feel an intense joy at seeing all this life.Scabious butterflies www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comScabious ochreluca www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comSt Johns Wort www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.commating craneflies  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comSmall White

It reminds me of a cycling holiday to Poland in the late1990’s (not the cycling bit) when we crossed over the border into the Czech Republic. After we got a stamp in our passports we took our picnic of bread, sausage and apples into one of the many meadows which clothed the hills there. We were totally overwhelmed. The air was literally alive with insects, thousands and thousands of them crawling, buzzing and humming. It wasn’t so great for the picnic – sitting on the ground was really uncomfortable – within seconds insects were crawling all over us. Eating too was difficult as most of the time was spent batting them away as they whizzed and crashed around our heads. We abandoned the meadow pretty quickly and got back on our bikes. Peacock Butterfly Spider  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comThistle Seed  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comBut it was amazing to think that this is probably what most of Europe was like before the advent of intensive farming. So we wonder where did all the birds go? I was talking to L about this and we both wondered whether Environmental Stewardship money is wasted on the likes of us and might be put to better use encouraging the ‘green desert’ farmers to preserve/create/maintain good habitats alongside food production. I don’t think they are mutually exclusive.

The rest of the day I spend ‘desperate mowing’. Despite the clear blue brightness of the sky, rain will come again soon. I pull the cord and she rumbles into life.Lawnmower www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comDaucus Carota www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comPeacock Butterfly

Thought Number 6 Celebrity Insects, Biodiversity and doing Battle with Buddleja

Painted Lady (borrowed from the web)

There’s another low coming from the west this weekend, I can already feel the wind ratchet up a notch. The butterflies must sense it may be their last chance for a while as there were plenty flitting about in the sun yesterday, avoiding the many dank corners which have been created this summer. It’s hard not to become fixated on exquisite perfection when I catch an extended view of a Peacock or a Painted Lady spreading it’s wings to soak up the rays. But this is only part of the story.

Nothing gets a nature conservationist frothing at the mouth more when yet another prime time TV programme urges people to plant Buddleja for butterflies.

Peacock (borrowed from the web)

But what these creatures really need is a wide range of food plants for the Larvae and Caterpillars which is the longest part of their life cycle, and then when they finally emerge for their brief and brilliant celebrity moment, they need a variety of nectar plants which last over an extended period.

Unsupported, Buddleja can be like a temporary bar in the middle of a desert – a place to gorge. Then what?

In the wild they have a propensity to spread so easily that they can eventually shade out other vital nectar plants, particularly in urban areas. This has finally been acknowledged in some of the more learned books on Flora but getting it across in popular culture is a mountain that no one seems willing to climb for fear of being a killjoy. Pah!

Peacock larvae (borrowed from web)

Now I’m thinking…were the Cows actually just a ruse to talk about Insects? No, no, no! I love the cows….so much so I have named them. The beginning of the herd.

PS. A wonderful little book on how to create a garden for wildlife is No Nettles RequiredThe Reassuring Truth about Wildlife Gardening by Ken Thompson. I borrowed the Peacock image from a farm in Somerset which farmed intensively for years and went organic 5 years ago with great results.

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