The following are extracts from a very unorthodox nature diary (or rather diaries) kept from the early 1990s to the present day. The complete edition will shortly be appearing on the www.dialecticalbutterflies.com web with the addition of hundreds of photographs as much of the writing concerns the analysis of various insects which, in particular have recently colonized – assisted by the dangerous vicissitudes of global warming - in the Pennine areas of West, North and to some degree, South Yorkshire. However, these diaries (16 of them to be exact) are hardly in the traditional mode of nature reporting, ranging far and wide and generally ignoring the limitations of restrictive specialisms: It is therefore a highly original and truly dialectical approach where, say the failure of personal relationships are inseparable from the failure of a limited eco critique. However in the final analysis – its bed rock if you like – there lurks everywhere an extension of the critique of political economy into fields barely touched upon previously. Most of the following extracts selected here emphasise these perhaps ‘oceanic feelings’.
Extracts from Unorthodox Nature Notebooks
21st August 1994: Ilkley Moor, West Yorks
A foreboding the weekend with Zohra would prove dreadful. Dropped some Prozac, tried not to be negative but it was to no avail. She persisted in needling me. In the end I just wanted her to go. She left on Sunday morning before I went off to Ilkley. I was both relieved and depressed she had gone. This time I think it could be final. Forced myself onto Ilkley Moor. I knew if I went to bed I would only feel the worse for it. So I crawled up the moor, avoiding where I could, the popular paths, not wanting to meet people. Was it me or her, my mildly depressed state or the after affects of the ten days she had spent in Italy with her brother? She was reluctant to talk about it but made it appear that it was I that wasn’t interested and that I was positively scornful of her family.
I found my first Northern Eggar caterpillar just before the highest point on Ilkley Moor. Appeared to be sunning itself resting on the ground by the side of the path. I took several photos. Others appeared to be basking in the sun and all were fully grown. One was close to an ants nest. I observed ants crawling under them and perhaps might even have been drawn to them in someway. Exceptional camouflage. Could easily be mistaken for withered tufts of heather especially those at the base of the clumps of heather. The lower I descended the fewer caterpillars there were. But I still found one near Tom Hudson’s pub where the heather was starting to give out. Also found a crushed Emperor moth caterpillar. A young man stopped me to ask me what I was photographing. He said he had seen a caterpillar bearing the colours of the ANC. This I took to be an Emperor.
I felt better for doing all this, the sun, the heather, all the while becoming more absorbed and forgetful of my pain. I ceased to ask questions, questions, questions - a little at any rate. I was more able to respond to the beauty of the surroundings. After 5 in the evening, the moor emptied of people taking on an even greater charm.
On seeing a crushed Emperor caterpillar for a split second I had the hallucination it was a huge Emperor caterpillar draped over the heather like a giant sausage.
28th December 1994: are we gradually drawing closer to a mass sensation of nothingness………………………………………………………?
23rd July 1995: After leaving Fairmile Common for Hutchinson’s Bank, Surrey
How different they were from ‘Radical Selsdon Man`’at Hutchinson’s Bank slightly farther north but still in Surrey. We had seen him earlier and he suddenly appeared from nowhere when we were making our way back along the grass verge. He asked us if we had seen the Dark Green Fritillary. We told him we had earlier and that this was their habitat, which surprised him. He was a voluntary warden with a pronounced cockney accent. His enthusiasm was brimming over and proclaimed that it was “good to do something for the cause”. As David said, 25 years ago he would have been an anarcho-trotskyist . Unlike the people we met on the Surrey heaths, he was able to talk to estate kids. On the top of Hutchinson’s Bank was the estate of New Addingham which even contained a couple of high-rise blocks. Rubbish had been thrown over the containing trellised fences and bindweed left to grow in choking profusion. Some kids had passed by us effing and blinding and part of the bank was worn away and used for sliding down on bits of card and chucked cupboard doors. Yet a boy racer on the bank had past us on a bike apologising for disturbing us. The warden had once stopped to talk to some kids who were catching lizards. He hoped they would be putting them back and they replied they would be. He was particularly indignant about the construction of a Japanese golf course on a piece of arable land. I had noticed it and judged it to be a gravel pit. It wouldn’t have taken much to whip up his infectious enthusiasm and extend to a critique of capitalism. Had it been him, I wondered, who had erected a makeshift sign in a field just outside Selsdon, protesting against the proposed building of a Sainsbury’s hypermarket on the site. I told him how a colony of Silver Studded Blues had been destroyed in Norfolk by the construction of a greenfied Sainsbury’s and David had mentioned that Butterfly Conservation had taken to occupying a site of the Marsh Fritillary in Wales to stop it being turned into an open cast site. He did not object to what we were saying at all, remarking how difficult it was to faithfully reproduce the minutiae of habitat. (The Silver Studded Blue had been translocated to another site but the colony did not survive)
Selsdon will be forever be associated with the name of Edward Heath who, for a brief period, anticipated Thatcherism before he was blown away by the miners and converted back to one nation Toryism. It is markedly less ostentatious than other Surrey suburbs, in fact typically petite bourgeois. There was even a faded graffiti, “Selsdon against the poll tax”. Nothing like this was to be found in a village like Malden Rushett . Apart from the service station, there was not one village shop to be found. All the houses must have possessed large freezers, and just outside the village was a large notice advertising a restaurant where it was possible to eat ostrich, crocodile, squirrel and bison! Good taste wasn’t in it............
The same could be said of the roads surrounding Cudlington golf course at Banstead. Large palatial houses, a total absence of pedestrians, with either council or building workers the only people to be seen. On the forecourt of some houses it was sometimes possible to count up to six cars.
On Banstead Downs we had once seen an entomologist sweeping the grass with a net. I had been delighted at seeing my first Green Hairstreak and had intended to question him on the flora and fauna of Banstead Downs. He had deliberately moved away in a manner I can only describe as contemptuous. Of course I would not have known as much as he did about entomology, but I had a far more comprehensive grasp of other apparently unrelated things. I could have left him standing on many subjects; instead he left me standing because I was merely an enthusiastic amateur.
How different it had been when some minutes earlier a local had stopped to ask us what we were doing. He was dressed in a T shirt with holes in it and was probably unemployed. After telling him about the relative rarities on the down he asked us if we had seen wild deer. I immediately thought of the Enclosures and the Black Acts which made deer stealing a capital crime. This was the type of person who could easily have been conscripted by Winstanley to farm St Georges Hill which is close by. And one of the few ways I am able make these days enjoyable is by reflecting that essentially these downs and hills will have changed but little from the days of the Common Lands and the resistance to enclosure. In this person, unlike that of the entomologist, I felt its spirit lived on. And for anyone who knows anything about the Civil War of the 1640s - the first great dream of modern times -names resonate in these otherwise wretched places. Names like Burford Drive (which in fact now is an ultra posh private road) evoking the memory of the Levellers, their resistance to wage labour and dream of an independent yeomanry. Reading a notice in Fairmile Common David had noted it had been put up by Elmsbridge Council. After the defeat of the 1640s revolution Winstanley had become Chief Constable (!) of the Elmsbridge Hundreds.
These notices are posted at the entrances to the commons and heaths. What struck me was the repudiation in each case of the name ‘Commons’ or even hint that once on these ‘wastes’ some kind of collective way of life struggled to be born. Their importance as nature reserves easily outweighed their other more potent significance (that also promises a greater diversity of species what’s more) as living symbols of the battle against enclosure and private property.
On Banstead Downs I had been struck by the arid, stony nature of the ground, believing that the Diggers must have chosen a more suitable piece of land to cultivate and to proclaim their economic revolution. But it was not the case. St Georges’s Hill even then was not especially suitable for cultivation, the best lands having already been enclosed.
The abundance of wildlife on these wastes set me thinking about Winstanley’s assertion, which looked forward to Kant, that it was up to man to redeem nature through infinite reason: “In the beginning of time the great creator Reason made the earth to be a common treasury, to preserve beasts, birds, fishes and man, the lord that was to govern this creation—not one word was spoken in the beginning that one branch of mankind should rule over another--. And hereupon the earth - was hedged into enclosures by the teachers and rulers and the others were made - slaves. And that earth that is within this creation made a common storehouse for all, is bought sold and kept in the hands of a few”.
“He that works for another either for wages or to pay him rent, works unrighteously----but they that are resolved to work and eat together making the earth a common treasury with Christ to lift up the creation from bondage and restores all things from their curse”. This vision comes to Winstanley in a trance. It suggests that it is not only man that is bound but all of creation and that everything is awaiting liberation including the butterflies fighting for their survival on these wastes.
Preamble to Ashstead Common “the community woodland” ( - not common woodland) approach involves reviving local interest in traditional woodland management techniques. The ancient oak pollards are relics known as pasture woodland which provided grazing and shelter for cattle as well as fuel and timber for building. There is a voluntary warden scheme and a countryside watch initiative both involving local people”.
1st May 1999: Wormwood Scrubs Common, North West London
Many Speckled Woods, a number of Orange Tips, numerous Peacocks and one female Brimstone. On Scrubs Lane yesterday I approached a man I took to be a professional naturalist. He turned out to be an ‘Irish countryman’ – and every other word was cunt and fuck. He was joined by a familiar figure from Selby. All three of them were now grouped around a eucalyptus tree in the centre of the reservation. It had been planted by a ‘Nial Sharkey’ type in memory of his dog. The young sapling had I believe been stolen from a nursery. It is significant how the tree now provided a focal point, I having for instance planted tansy and valerian beneath its branches.
I tried to say hello to ‘Nial Sharkey’ without knowing his name. He now has become an alcoholic and both men were sympathetic to his condition and started to discuss the question of alcoholism. He had even kicked drink in the early 1990s but his landlord had set the house in which he lived on fire and taken the reformed alcoholic who was now in hospital several bottles of drink. Once back on the booze he was no good as a witness. So Notting Hill’s perennial landlord question once again in the midst of Scrubs Lane Park. Nial was now in sheltered accommodation but the countryman thought the system prison-like with a “fucking grill on the door with a fucking buzzer, no fucker answers”. He also thought sheltered housing had potential particularly if it was made more communal by introducing a more village-like atmosphere with gardens and a village green.
Both men condemned the meals on wheels service as nutritionally hopelessly inadequate. What interested me was how quickly with working class people green issues immediately start to overlap with social issues. Middle class people are able to keep them apart, nature becoming an extension of their social existence, tamed and neutral and correct. Neither batted an eye about making an introduction – in this case a eucalyptus tree - without getting official permission beforehand.
4th June 1999: Visited Chambers Farm Wood near Lincoln looked in Little Scrubs Meadow, Ivy Wood for Marsh Fritillary and Chequered Skipper.
The day dawned overcast and cool. I thought the trip pointless but went along for the sake of an initial reconnoiter which would make it that much easier the next time. So I was gloomy and uncommunicative on the train there little realising in a few hours time I would be elated.
Once we got to Lincoln the weather started to break and the sun came out. The bus to Wragby – a Skegness bus – climbed up the hill to the cathedral and then on to the more typically suburban part of Lincoln passing an industrial estate of car showrooms full of Honda, Renault, Alfa Romeo, Vauxhall and Ford Lincoln. I had never seen such a conglomeration of car outlets and car servicing factories. Also a number of DIY stores – Halfords, Wickes etc set the tone of the surrounding district – smart houses and expensive cars.
The countryside around Lincoln was as dead as the town: vast fields, grubbed-out hedgerows, lone trees, isolated hamlets surrounding the cultivated, morbid deadness increasing their remoteness and menace. By chance we started off on the wrong path which was to save us at least a couple of miles only to read a notice after we had ventured half a mile that it was not a public footpath. But we continued after walking half way along to hear the sound of gunshot half expecting bullets to whiz past us. Eventually we arrived at Chambers Farm Wood, a police car passing us on the approach road adding to the atmosphere of menace.
Half an hour later we had found the Marsh Fritillary. The sun hadn’t as yet really broken through so the fritillaries were most obliging. Most were faded having been lashed by the torrential downpour of june 2nd. But they were there in considerable numbers feeding off ragged robin and pyramid orchids mainly. i thought they were confined to only one area of the field but as the sun grew hotter they were to be found in every corner. The devil’s bit scabious existed in considerable profusion and a few were to be seen on the leaves probably testing suitability for egg laying. Fortunately we were on the official path when we encountered three people who turned out to be English Nature wardens. There was a girl with the two older men who may have been a trainee. She remained quiet throughout. When asked where the Chequered Skipper was one of the men replied in a gruff surly fashion, “There aren’t any here” and walked off. However, the other was more genial and prepared to talk and directed us to the proper spot in Ivy Wood. Visitors on English Nature sites are barely tolerated and many of the wardens are like gamekeepers and hate the common people. They put their trust in nature and their anti-humanism is shared by their more aristocratic bosses.
We made our way to Ivy Wood but having taken a wrong turning came across a couple who put us on the right path. I was immediately captivated by the woman nearly treading on a grass snake which gave me a shock. A short while later in a narrow ride I saw the Chequered Skipper on the ragged robin. Again it was a dished specimen and we were not to see a perfect specimen. There was a shower of rain and I was surprised to see the Chequered Skipper remain where it was on a grass stalk in spite of the pelting. When the rain stopped I observed the skipper’s proboscis uncoil testing the slightly concave surface of the grass stalk. It repeated this action a number of times before its proboscis finally curled up.
Coming away we met the couple again. Perhaps because we has succeeeded after a futile week on the 11th hour, the woman made a lasting impression on me and I began to dream of love and its longed for pleasures and pains. I felt she wanted to give us her telephone number, that in the middle of this nature reserve, life was to begin again. That night I dreamt of her and of going to live in the woods where houses become trees, the bark like clapboard thick with moss and lichens. Nature now is a leisure activity; it is a reservation, a ‘themed’ nature according to one’s preference whether it be for lime woods or Marsh Fritillaries. But for nature to become a real pleasure (and not merely leisure) it must once again be respectfully lived in.
It is not just Lincoln itself, nor is it just a matter of reclaiming the streets but of reclaiming places like Lincolnshire bringing all that dead countryside to life again where not a weed, where nothing natural is allowed to disturb the fields of cash crops. What a living thing Lincolnshire must once have been. And to look at it now and where the Lincolnshire poacher lives on as a fashionable eatery. The rural housing: Each area of the country has something indefinably distinct about it even though the houses vary but little in shape and size. What is the same are the dreary rows of semi detached and bungalows along the rides of the roads leading from the city centre. The bricks on the old houses had uniqueness about them. Fashioned from the local clay they were alternatively reddish and clay coloured. Even their size was somewhat unusual.
Arriving in Lincoln around 6 30 the town was deserted. Not a shop or café was open except a kebab house opposite the railway station. The owner possibly from Greece or Turkey thought we were “Yanks or Aussies” and refused to believe we were from West Yorks. Eventually we found an off license with a security guard on duty! Coming back drinking on the train was a joy as we looked at the skies over Lincolnshire, then the dramatic citadels of clouds approaching West Yorks from Doncaster. The sulphuric shafts of light from behind the dark, massing clouds which, as a child only added further hellish aroma to the smoking chimneys and furnaces.
If only everyday could be like this and better!
24th June 1999: Strumpshaw Fen near Norwich, Norfolk
Visited Strumpshaw Fen for the third time. The weather forecast for the south east turned out to be completely inaccurate. At the most there was three quarters of an hour of sunshine, David managing to take three photos of the Swallowtail on the ragged robin. The sun came out around 4 45 but it was too late catching brief glimpses of two Swallowtails but none coming to nectar.
As usual interesting encounters: Met a person from Nottingham with a battered birdscope equipment and no camera. He was more into observing and making notes than taking photos. He was a storehouse of knowledge traveling by train and bus because he did not have a car, he was not competitive either making light of his learning. His comments were weighed and thoughtful. I would have liked to have delved into his fat notebooks to see if it was more than a mere recording of sightings. He wasn’t well dressed but not shabby neither though he was wearing a grubby jacket. His face was weather beaten from having spent weeks in the rain, wind and sun. He was also very patient accepting the overcast skies without a murmur. One sensed there was a refusal in his life that he had not toed the line preferring to spend his life on the dole rather than opt for conformity. Maybe he had cracked up somewhere along the line and his voluntary work, for instance on Gait Barrows in Morecambe Bay had been at the behest of a psychiatric institution.
Also met a couple from Hampshire. Both worked for a nature reserve but I suspect the woman only worked in a voluntary capacity. They were still interesting to talk to and soon we were freely swapping privileged information; like the whereabouts of the lady’s slipper orchid in exchange for a Glanville Fritillary colony on the Hampshire mainland. Also he told me which telecomputer to buy for a 300mm lens. His wife was more bashful but once more the atmosphere started to sizzle with repressed eros and when I started to walk along the path to the gateway leading from the fen she seemed to stick to me like glue quickening her step in time with mine as if she wanted to leave the nature reserve arm in arm with me and walk into the sunset. Because nature is so much under threat it is a place of encounter and camaraderie. Rarely do you come across a person who is actually off-putting – and then they often turn out to be wardens.
When we went in through the main gate of the fen we were jumped by the RSPB who in a rather forceful, off-putting manner said we usually charge an entrance fee in the form of a donation. The amount was left to us but we weren’t allowed to put the money into the donation box but rather hand it over to them as a way of shaming us to pay more. They also started to pressurise us into joining the RSPB. We were also called “naughty” because we had used the back entrance to the fen rather than the main gate. The insinuation was we had done so deliberately because it was automatically assumed we had come there by car and the only car park was in front of the main gate. In fact we had stumbled on the back entrance by accident, the path to Blundel station being far more direct. The experience of the RSPB was unpleasant enough to cause us to walk around the perimeter of the fen rather than face going back the shorter route and confronting the RSPB once more. As a result we lost the best of the sunshine and the chance probably to photograph nectaring Swallowtails.
Everything within the organisation, nothing outside it. This appeared to me the credo of the RSPB and was no different from any Trotskyist (say) political party. And so numbers come to count more than truth and any dissent is unthinkable and lunatic.
27th August 1999: Hell’s Coppice, Burnwood Forest, Oxon
Memorable because of encounters with visitors rather than being able to get a shot of Brown Hairstreaks. Met the North Yorks recorder for Butterfly Conservation and his wife. And a man from Merseyside who claimed he didn’t have a TV and only watched it when he visited his brother. He was interested in rare birds like wilson’s petrol and the wood sandpiper, hoar finches etc. Both were looking for the Brown Hairstreak as was a man who turned out to be a Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford. He had stories to tell of EB Ford working to debar women from common rooms; his scanty notes on genetics when it was expected there would be reams to edit on his death, and how his “Butterflies” (book) began with the fall of Constantinople, the beauty of the colour plates and his memorable account of the capture of a monarch butterfly. I said I thought Oxford was a very different place from today’s Oxford (in a reference to joy-riding he described Oxford as, “The city of screaming tyres”). He misunderstood what I was getting at – the leftward drift in 1930s Oxford and which influenced Ford, Huxley, Haldane, Inns etc. – thinking I was referring to increased paperwork and administrative duties etc which Steve Jones also indicted. Appeared not to have heard of Inns and was somewhat put out. From his accounts we got the impression Hell’s Coppice was becoming depleted of butterflies. The Pearl Bordered Fritillary has disappeared and the Black Hairstreak is obviously in severe decline. Once the Marsh Fritillary flew in the woods but our Fellow reckoned the construction of a tarmac road to aid nature tourism may have led to is disappearance. (Rides were widened filling in ditches in which the devils bit scabious grew and where the hibernaculum of the fritillary were to be found.) However, he couldn’t be absolutely sure.
Seemed not to be interested in introductions. Mentioned rather disparagingly the introduction of the Glanville Fritillary on the Wirral by the Professor of Genetics at Liverpool University. The rate of extinction is not natural but is 1000 times faster than normal. The attempt to preserve species is not counter to natural law understood as an average leaving out the vast acceleration of extinction at the end of the Permian and Jurassic periods. When I asked is EB Ford something of a legend in Oxford, the Fellow answered “Yes and no” – and his negative view was largely based, I suspect, on accusations of sexism which scientists appear to be extremely sensitive too.
22nd June 2001: Cowpasture Wood, Northants
At one point a Black Hairstreak landed on the back of a child’s chair and stayed there some time. It was the lowest point the hairstreak settled all day. Immediately the pushchair was surrounded by voracious photographers anxious to secure a prize winning shot. They never stopped to ask why the Black Hairstreak was attracted to the pushchair. One was particularly aggressive with his 500 mm telephoto lens. This expensive equipment automatically conferred priority and it was obvious they despised our ‘inferior’ equipment. In fact they were taking images not photographs of real butterflies. There surroundings were of no importance to these animals. They consumed insects they did not observe them. Within half an hour they had thankfully disappeared from the scene just as we anticipated. They had spent the week going from one reservation to another flaunting their expensive junk – for at the end of the day that’s what it was – and an intelligent use of a brownie box camera could have yielded better results, when I moved off to look at an adjacent bramble bush passing as I did so their half open camera bags, the most unpleasant of the photographers followed – just as I thought he would. The message was clear – not only was our equipment inferior but we were also suspicious individuals and potential robbers. Their way of viewing nature was the industrialisation of natural history.
The binoculists are as naturalists the more profound observing nature rather than consuming it. They are also nicer people letting others take a look. But these photographers took the place over like nature paparazzi.
May 26th 2003: Rothwell Country Park and Skelton Grange, Leeds, West Yorks
The search for the Dingy Skipper proved a fruitless one. Rothwell Country Park was landscaped rather better than I had come to imagine. In fact much of the substrate had been left merely moulded into pathways. Stones had been laid for irrigation purposes and fine rather than coarse grass had been sown to permit plants like trefoil, clover, and knapweed and so on to thrive. In fact there was an abundance of trefoil and the terrain as a whole was perfect for the Dingy Skipper. When they do finally arrive colonisation of the entire site would I think proceed rapidly? I saw a number of Latticed Heaths moths and there was a sizable colony of Walls.
Despite the sensitive landscaping the ‘down and dirty’ nature at Skelton Grange power station was far more diverse and much more exciting because it was less planned. I took a photo of a marsh thistle sprouting from a water stopcock amidst an otherwise parched area of concrete covered with trefoil on the margins. Such an unusual combination would not have been permitted on the nearby Rothwell Country Park. Beside it would have been judged dangerous and filled in. One could actually see the various stages of natures’ takeover from moss on the concrete and pavements to trefoil, buddleia, birch, dog daisies, teasel, ragwort, dandelion etc, etc.
There were more Common Blues (all males) and Cinnabars than in Rothwell Country Park. There was also a greater variety of bird life like the common tern, oystercatcher and lapwings. I walked across what was left of the acres of foundations; angry lapwings were wheeling about me anxious that I should not find their chicks in these industrial furrows left by dereliction. Wherever I looked there was far more to capture the eye and seize the imagination than in Rothwell Country Park: an abandoned skip, railway lines that appeared from nowhere and ended just as abruptly, huge concrete blocks with rusting metal roots sticking out of them, a rusting steel gate opening onto a flat, empty expanse of rubble that was slowly being invaded by plant life. It was such a lonely, lovely experience. Apart from myself, it was deserted and I was carried back to my childhood when I would wander alone on to Aycliffe Trading Estate and in the sidings around Heighington station in Co Durham.
11th July 2003: Woodhall Quarries, Fagley, Bradford, West Yorks
Found some Small Tortoiseshell caterpillar webs. They appeared to bed several nettle stalks into a continuous web. The stalks are eaten through to a fine filament. The caterpillar must find the sap nourishing. I also found on the leaves something that resembled aphid honeydew. It is possible the caterpillars exude it during this early stage. The colony seems to have a central knot with larvae heaped upon larvae. The caterpillars at the centre of this knot are unusually still and only those at the perimeter are active. When the sun is out there is an all round increase in activity. The caterpillars often twitch and throw both their front portions in a defiant gesture. Looked at close too it can be quite unnerving. Their little black heads shine like that of a centipede – or like a cobra about to strike. I noticed several in this posture on the edge of a nettle leaf almost as if waiting to strike some unseen prey. It certainly looked menacing and for a small bird a mere fraction of my size, many times more so.
What do these writhing, gossamer shreds conjure up to small creatures? Something not of this earth. The webs sometimes are tent-like with holes in them similar to those that appear on a stretched plastic sheet. Caterpillars would go in and out of them. These tent-like structures are to be found at the heart of the colony just where all the caterpillars are to be found resting. The very young larvae form a hibernacula out of two interwoven nettle leaves. They stay enclosed within this until at least a centimetre in size. They then cling onto the outside their massed presence giving the colony a threatening bulk – a twirling, gnarled, slimy, shiny, deformed excrescence of a creature.
The following dream bears out one of my central ideas on entomology: I was not aware of it at the time and only later reflecting upon it I became aware. I was in a heaped-up crowd of protesters in Iran standing not shoulder to shoulder but somehow on top of each other. We were all hooded with a cowl drawn over our beards. I was afraid of being unmasked because it would become apparent at once I was a westerner and yet as an internationalist I wanted to be with the crowd. On reflection I realised my looking closely at the knot of Small Tortoiseshell larvae had shaped this image. It carried a human significance way beyond its mere form.
14th July 2003: Dent Head/Rise Hill, High Pennines, North Yorks
What a slog to reach the site and we should have walked directly along the railway track from Dent station to Dent tunnel. The first thing I saw was a Ringlet – a very dished Ringlet. I was to see several more. The three I did examine were normal specimens but the colony appeared to be notably lighter in colour. How did it get here? There were also a couple of Meadow Browns – again quite surprising.
However, all that remained of the Small Pearl Bordered Fritillary were a few ragged stragglers and to even attempt to photograph on these slopes of large rocks covered in grasses through which a boggy stream ran was quite out of the question. Possibly the colony is quite extensive and maybe photographs above Steep Rise Tunnel are possible in the evening. There was much wild strawberry in evidence so is this a possible Grizzled Skipper site?
Met a birder on Dent station. He despised naturalist organisations; the RSPB in particular he thought had “no conception of ecology”. What he really meant was the inter-linked chain of nature with man as the chief link. Even the insect world was in his opinion being destroyed by modern farming methods. The insects were needed to fertilise the flowers and without either there was no bird life.
I told him the Yorkshire branch of Butterfly Conservation were very active. “Have they got a lot of guns?” he said. There was something child-like and intense about him. He asked Barbara if I was “obsessed”. When she said “yes” he was impressed. He thought trains were the transport of the future. Without ever saying so explicitly he thought the infrastructure of life – insects – were declining to the point where dung in Lincolnshire no longer decomposed when left in the wild remaining there for weeks (A week later a report came out – a credible report – on the decline of house sparrows which attributed their decline in the crucial second and third brood to a decrease of insects).
He noticed the spoil heaps left over from the digging out of Blea Moor tunnel. He also expressed his concern over the number of navvies who would have died constructing the Settle/Carlisle railway. In other words this choice of terminology – ecology – was simply an extension of the ‘mode of production’.
24th August 2003: Boston Spa and Thorpe Arch in West Yorks
Not a sign of the Brown Argus and it is unlikely there ever will be. This was Private Property nature: private car parks, no cycling, and no riding notices. And least of all did it welcome walkers. I felt the eyes of the village were upon me as I walked through Thorpe Arch. In fact I did not pass one other pedestrian. But I did feel that I was being looked at and all my movements monitored. When I stopped in front of a house to examine the magnesium limestone façade I could sense hands about to reach for the phone to call the police. People in cars would give me the once over as they passed. In this deserted village of sky-high property prices I was an object of suspicion.
Little of the magnesium limestone was in evidence. There was a cliff face similar to the one in nearby Knaresborough but rather smaller. However the only means of access was along a private road. Modern houses had been constructed close to the cliff face totally destroying the feature. On the roadside I found some “travellers joy” clearly at the limits of its range. Noticeably it was on the roadside and not on what was left of the exposed cliff face. Only horticultural artificialities were allowed to bloom here.
There were no Asian faces or black faces and none of the flora and fauna we have come to associate with limestone. It was dead the whole place was dead. Under one of the arches of the limestone road bridge crossing the River Wharfe someone had sprayed “crew” – that was all. Had they put “Boston Spa Crew” it would have been laughable.
I looked at the faces I passed. They were tight and mean. Money was their god. I was beneath contempt and they did not have the grace to at least try and conceal it. I doubt if there was even a supermarket because like in the Hamptons (in New England) there would have been opposition to it. Typically apart from a small Costcutter the shops were boutiques selling fashion and design, drapes and dreams.
I noticed there had been attempts to render over the eroding limestone. In Wentbridge I noticed some of the old sand and cement had been hacked off to expose the original limestone. This back to basics is also an aspect of conservation – and rising property prices. It should signify a greater sensitivity to nature but in practise it meant the opposite.
20th May 2004: Dinnington, South Yorks
Relieved to find the Dingy Skippers were out. They commenced roosting around 5 pm. The Dinnington spoil heap is much changed. It now has a rolling downland aesthetic and the pit spoil heap once could look so dramatic against the skyline. First clay is thrown down over the shale; then topsoil is added; then seeded with grass making sure all other vegetation is shaded out. A dull barren green carpet is the outcome. No trefoil: the spoiling of the spoil heaps. Nature and humanity are prevented from reclaiming it in their own way. There is something indescribably dull about these country parks. The makeover is drastic and unnecessary. Let nature retain it, as it will with just a little assistance. It is now altogether too planned and nature will prefer untrammelled industrial dereliction any day.
4th June 2004: Penistone, South Yorks
The day dawned overcast, windy but warm. Arrived Penistone around midday. Nothing on the old Woodhead side of the platform. But crossing over the still functioning line I immediately espied several Dingy Skippers once the sun came out. From then on everywhere I looked – provided I was diligent and patient enough – I found Dingy Skipper. They were also past their best and within five days they will have gone. The colony stretches for a mile by the side of the railway line in the Silkstone direction where it comes to a stop at a Barrett’s housing estate called “The Sidings”. How dare they! They preserve the name not the reality of a real railway siding. On Huddersfield station I saw a poster advertising the Penistone Line Station Walk from Sheffield to Huddersfield renamed The Heritage Trail - perhaps because of the stir over the closure of the Woodhead Pass line. But this is not conservationist stuff because the laying of the path destroyed much of the trefoil. Where it stops is clearly visible: on the railway line trefoil, on the heritage trail, nothing!
There is also a housing development just outside of the station. A fence demarcates civilisation from the barbarian encroachment of trefoil, rubber tyres, porn mags and heaped-up clinker from long forgotten blast furnaces. Two wary children were constructing a den on this fascinating site but most likely it will not remain for long. It looks set to be built on: yet more anti-nature housing in the name of sustainable housing. Names, names, names! Let names substitute for reality: the lip service and lipstick of conservation! In fact there is a wooden fence separating this estate from the railway line and behind it there are suburban gardens. The refuse from the gardens, lawn cuttings from ridiculously manicured lawns etc are dumped over the fence onto the former rail tracks. Here it decomposes creating fertile topsoil on which nettles and thick grass luxuriate – but not trefoil. Hence the corridor is cut in two.
Right down the track just before the Barratt’s housing estate a three-acre site has been cleared of carr woodland. It has been set aside for industrial units. For the moment the makeshift piles of cut down birch provide a windbreak behind which the Dingy Skippers can shelter in the sun. But for how long? Formerly it had been a railway siding. Without exception all the colonies of Dingy Skipper we have found can be wiped out at a stroke. And probably will be because little will be done to prevent it. And the rubber fangs of the biodiversity groups will bend to the developers. Their claws will be retracted every bit as useless as the abandoned teddy bears and the three-eyed alien soft toy I found whilst searching for the Dingy Skipper at Ravensthorpe – that litters these sites of industrial dereliction. I videod plenty and a Barrett’s flunkey – one eye open the other tightly closed – tried to stop me saying, “If you’re taking photos anything can happen?”
14th July 2004: The Walk
Found the Ringlet in the Boars Well just as we expected. One was a partial ab: arête though David believed he found a very dished ab: caeca. This would comply with the theory of early emergence for the varieties; late emergence favouring normal forms.
Anyway arrived at the Blue Pig pub. Susan was astonished we found the Ringlet in the Boars Well and asked how do we do it? Well, maybe we have begun to think like butterflies – we become them in some ways in accordance with Keats’s “negative capability”. The meeting concerned a dispute about Woodhall Quarry but no one turned up from the council least of all Peter Bowler, the ‘radical’ eco journalist poacher turned gamekeeper. But these nature bureaucrats are not on our side. They trade in the life of species with both sides in the business of making concessions. However it is wild life, which loses out every time.
If only I had visited the yards yesterday, it was sunny though the day had dawned overcast and very unpromising. I cursed the fact that I had not taken potluck and gone in any case.
1st August 2005: Healey Mills Marshalling Yards, West Yorks
I spent most of the day lying on the bankside in the heather triangle concealed from prying eyes. An EWS (English/Welsh/Scottish) van had been drawn up off the main pathway. Twice or thrice I went to see if it was still there. I was disappointed to not finding Graylings and feared the worst. Around 1600 hours the weather looked as if it might be clearing up so I went off in search of the Grayling. Before long I had seen one and gave chase to photograph it. Once more I was impressed with the thrilling disused feel of the yards: a veritable graveyard of locomotives.
I managed to get about ten minutes of film when I was almost caught. A passing EWS driver in his locomotive must have alerted security and I’ve got it on film.
I was told by security that if I returned to the yards I would be arrested. I could have kicked myself for not taking more care, however I did learn that the EWS did not own the elevated pathway, which goes across the yards and that the yards would not be sold off to a housing developer. However there were plans to upgrade the yards probably in the next ten years. The manager appeared exasperated and I think he spends a considerable amount of time chasing people out of the yards with the transport police reluctant to come out and make arrest. He said because of my presence the main line train had been stopped. I suppose his job was on the line if anyone is killed under his watch but at the end of the day the guy was a jobsworth and seemed to take a delight in saying the yards would be developed and my lovely Grayling would be dead and buried in the process and good riddance. More than ever this year I have become convinced butterflies and the fight for their conservation is becoming Osama Bin Laden with wings and we terrorist lepidopterists. It does clearly reveal how terror is working criminalising all descent at the same time as society becomes more anarchic in a bad way.
I was depressed by the outcome and trudged up Healey Road recollecting maybe the last time I had done this was 50 years ago. And then I went along Southdale Road passing our old school, our secondary modern school. Walking and waiting at the bus stop on Station Road at the top of Southdale Road I decided I had little choice but to become a martyr to the cause of butterflies and that I was going to have to take some really heavy action. I had been forced to trade the study of butterflies for the study of war and strategy.
I was unable to get to sleep that night until well after 0300 hours so powerful was the adrenaline running through me. But I did not want it to be like that.
While waiting for the clouds to clear when I was in the heather triangle, I did not have anything to do so I read an article in the Guardian by Madeline Bunting on Pester Power “Trouble in Store” about kids on corners. These ‘born-to-buy’ kids by the age of ten frequently know 300 brand names and more. Madeline Bunting is one of those journalists who see something but is never ever able to grasp the subject with all the radicality it deserves. Sitting here alone I could only think what is the future for humanity when today’s children are like they are and that it is increasingly being left to older people to fight for the right of nature to exist.
And then I was caught humiliated made to feel guilty just like any naughty child and was made to see the error of my ways: The obvious pointed out to me like as though I was a child – when the obvious was not at all evident.
9th August 2005: Kiveton Spoil Heap, Waleswood spoil heap and Rother Valley Country Park
Saw my first second generation Dingy Skipper and in Yorkshire of all places! I thought this only happened in the South West of England.
First of all went to Kiveton, and the new landscaping here is appalling. Millions of pounds have been spent on it and I doubt the Dingy Skipper has survived. Although the areas where they fly have been left unmolested they need the bare earth or shale and this has been covered with thicknesses of clay and soil and this will be grassed over. The only thing to do is coppice the slopes and burn off the undergrowth leaving patches of shale. I would not have thought such a cock up was possible.
I met a Michael Palin character on the spoil heap. Apparently he had once been an engineer although he had started out as an electrician. He was now retired but I suspect he had had a nervous breakdown. He was obsessed with spoil heaps and all pit workings and his knowledge of the coal industry was incredible. He thought that nuclear power rather than coal was most likely the new energy option in this country.
Evidently what we were walking on over the spoil heap was, I leant, burnt shale, product of the transformation, which takes place when the spoil heaps caught on fire. The guy carefully listened to our tales of Bunting’s Beavers and appeared to have several nutty friends one who was convinced the CIA was listening in on him and had smashed a woman’s mobile on a bus and then fought with other passengers including the bus driver. Finally the man ended up in jail for seven months and as our man on the spoil heap said, seven months in an asylum was more appropriate. He was set to visit him this Friday.
His knowledge of coal workings, fault lines, geology and old industrial structures was considerable. He had supported the miners’ strike and this had changed his life. He came out with a scary little ditty: “Mary had a little lamb but sat down by a pylon, suddenly there was a power surge and the lamb became nylon”.
He was an innocent at large and a very typical South Yorkshire character. He had become an amateur geologist as a result of a long detour. He mentioned how the spoil from Kellingley Colliery has been taken out by road and tipped down Thorne mineshaft, some 2000 metres deep. Gale Common, the site of the old Kellingley Colliery spoil heap had now become opencast and they were taking out the coal which is then transported to nearby power stations where it is mixed with high grade coal from abroad, milled and the pulverised dust then blasted into furnaces almost like a liquid.
20th May 2006: Tesco’s new store - Great Horton, Bradford, West Yorks
Returning to Bradford, the great Tesco temple had opened in Great Horton. It has been an awful couple of days, the rain has barely stopped and a cold northeasterly wind has whipped through everything tearing twigs off the trees.
Tesco’s was a compensation - horrid though it is to admit it. This was a shopping experience provoking awe, even a sense of sublime as the back wall of this monstrous cavern was lined with HD TV screens and the bargains, like as if capitalism was in the process of suppressing price and eventually making everything free.
This experience actually broke down barriers between people as major events do. People’s eyes met as they talked - though only about the bargains on offer - as if unable to believe their eyes. This is the beginning of Wal Mart-ism and for the poor of Great Horton it is manna from heaven: the Sistine Chapel of consumption. Kids went mad with delight and former fuckheads were rooted to the spot looking at the price reductions. But the roof restaurant was nonexistent looking as we thought over Ilkely and Howarth Moors. Yet this was a café but it looked out merely on cars!
Formerly the site was occupied by an abandoned factory although behind it and also in front was huge high-wire fences. Brambles were entwined amongst the wire and poked through the fence and one could pick enough for a pie in a very short space of time – they were very juicy! It was an industrial derelict site and possibly nature rich but it was virtually impossible to access, thus we could never find anything out.
At what point does Tesco become unsustainable as with the on-going food crisis the price of consumer durables start to rise inexorably? In thirty years time this insane globalisation is bound to give way to localism and the car park returned to vegetable plots such as happened in World War Two hence the once cultivated brambles.
Fuckheads coming out of the store with a twix bar between them because that is all they could afford.
Stuart Wise: Summer 2010 (Continued in Part 2)