August weather often produces languor inducing heat which can reduce the vigour of one’s efforts and it may seem rather more appealing to sit in the shade with a cool beer than to try and exert oneself too much under the ferocity of the noonday sun. This year, however, we are becoming acclimatised to a sizzling summer that will remain long in the memory – as did the scorcher of 1976.
The riverside pastures have been crying out for a good rain to restart the grass growth and the rain over the last weekend of July was certainly very welcome. At present the livestock is still relying on the dry hay-like material and probably dreaming about the lush green growth that is usually the norm. Hopefully, even with climate change, years like this will still be the exception.
Wildlife, of course, also has to cope with the extraordinary conditions and doubtless there will be much that will suffer with hedgehogs springing to mind as their slug and worm prey are relatively inactive during hot and very dry weather and they will have to rely on beetles and caterpillars. Some wildlife, however, will thrive and butterflies have been taking advantage. These beautiful insects suffer considerably in soggy summers so the recent conditions have been much more to their liking.
One of the species that has been of considerable concern in recent years is the common blue butterfly. Until last year numbers continued to dwindle at an alarming rate and it was quite unusual to see one, let alone several, whilst out on a country walk. Last year there was a significant improvement in their numbers and this year they appear to be very frequent – along with noticeable numbers of large whites.
Managing the countryside in a considered way for wildlife is important if species are to be conserved and much research is carried out to that end so that everyone knows what they should be aiming for. Grassland management for butterflies, for example, should aim for a height of about four inches when cut and cleared so that caterpillars and pupae survive. On the other hand other species may require radically different treatment.
On the Valley Trail the rare biennial Deptford Pink bloomed early this year and has had a good season so far in spite of a lack of moisture. It puts down deep roots and is a survivor providing there is very little competition. To that end the management advice is to strim off the vegetation at ground level and to scuff the soil surface in order to create opportunities for the seeds to germinate. That really should sound the death knell for any caterpillars or pupae. Yet, recently this area was alive with clouds of common blue butterflies gyrating through the air, chasing one another or resting on the grass seed-heads. It really was uplifting to see these beautiful creatures in such profusion and although they are now dispersing, blues continue to be seen at that site.
Over in Great Cornard Country Park common blues have also been very frequent but the species that has done extremely well is the brown argus, a small butterfly not dissimilar to the common blue with rather similar outer wing markings to the common blue. During the period of overwhelming heat these easily overlooked butterflies were resting in the shade of the huge hedgerows. They were far too numerous to count as they took to the wing in extraordinary numbers when disturbed. What a delight!