A Burgundy diary – 26 June 2021

Disappearance of butterflies

The picture quality is terrible, the definition is all wrong and you can hardly see its object. It is hardly worth posting, save perhaps for the colour of the patch of thyme we have there. But look carefully. There is a small tortoise-shell butterfly who was almost impossible to photograph. He or she tantalised me: opening wings briefly; then as I closed in closing them again and reverting to camouflage.

I learned a little about butterflies when I was eight, at school: that they have all around vision, but can only see a metre or two (as I recall). I found that very difficult to imagine; and if it is right, I could have gone closer for my photograph. We learned mostly only about cabbage whites and their family: the red admiral, peacock, painted lady and small tortoise-shell.

And then at lunch-time today I read a book review – truly sobering – of The Disappearance of Butterflies by Josef H Reichholf (tr, Gwen Clayton, Polity Press £25; review in New Statesman, 4-10 June, 42, by Mark Cocker). Since the 1970s, in Germany – and presumably this applies also in most of Western Europe  – bees have declined in number by 80%. Tidiness of landscape is not good for the countryside generally, and also for butterflies. Neatness is not necessarily ‘best farming practice’ if you care about butterflies. Untidiness and wildlife abundance are closely connected.

Our bee-keeper friend excoriates the mowing of grass road verges. Why trim hedges when – as mostly around here – you are just flailing at them, assaulting them; and alongside the assaulted hedge, you (the farmer) will have a barbed wire or electric fence, often both. We all of us have so much to learn; and the octo-decimation (8 times 10 = 80%) of butterflies is but a part of it.

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