Friday, 15 July 2016

Bernwood Salvation 14th July 2016

I rolled over in bed and looked through the bedroom window at the outside world to find the sun was already shining, and heard on the radio it was predicted to shine all day. This, under normal circumstances should be a cause for celebration as finally the grey clouds were being banished. It was six thirty in the morning but something was wrong. Despite  the sun illuminating the room I was downcast, troubled in my mind and upset. Oh yes, I remember now. Last night I had to digest the news that a shameless liar, cheat and dissembler, a man who was sent by his own party leader some years ago to the City of Liverpool to publicly apologise for insulting Liverpool and its entire population, had been rewarded with one of the premier Offices of State in the British Government, namely Foreign Secretary. His name? Boris Johnson. A man who the French Foreign Minister has publicly called a liar and of whom Amber Rudd, a fellow Cabinet Minister in the new Government said she would not trust even to drive her home.

So much for Theresa May's pledge to make us one nation and as for the Government she is forming? Tories only know one thing. It certainly has the word 'one' in it but is preceded by the word 'number'. As shown by the odious Michael Gove they will do anything to further their own personal interests at the expense of anyone, even so called friends, who get in their way. Theresa May conveniently seems to have forgotten that in the referendum 48% of people voted to remain in the EC and the UK is more divided now than it has been for a very long time and is likely to fragment even further if Scotland leaves the UK in the near future. One nation? I do not think so. The Nasty party? May's very own words. Definitely

To appoint Johnson, an over indulged flaxen haired oaf who has and will continue to regularly cause offence at home and abroad, to represent this country is an embarrassment and an insult to anyone with any intelligence or sense of propriety. For all May's fine words I do not trust or believe anything she or any of her right wing cabal might say. Mind you it would help if we had an Opposition to the Tories in Parliament but Corbyn, the bearded scruff of high ideals but with little chance of putting them into practice seems intent on emasculating Labour to the point of implosion. I despair. I really do.

So I was not in a happy state of mind and looking at the sunlight reflecting from the ceiling just as I reflected on the sorry state that Britain has descended into I wanted to fly up into the light, away from the amoral void of disingenuous politicians, the endless false promises and personal insult of having to listen to these vile self important people.  The solution, although it would only provide temporary relief, lay, for me, in getting out of the house as soon as possible, away from the radio and heading once more for the calming, gentle atmosphere of Bernwood Forest and hopefully some close encounters with Purple Emperors to take my mind off all the things currently troubling me.

Chris (left) and Wayne (centre) enjoying a close encounter with His Excellency
I arrived at just before nine and met Chris, a casual acquaintance who travels here from Hertfordshire and who I meet annually at Bernwood every year, quite by chance, when we both come to look for Emperors. Wayne, one of 'the locals' from Oxfordshire also joined us. I find looking for rare butterflies a much more gentle exercise than going to see rare birds, the people you meet are less in number and the testosterone charged air of competitiveness is singularly lacking. This was exactly what I needed on today of all days. A few other people also turned up. Some I knew, others were strangers but we were all united in our desire to see a Purple Emperor. 

Like all our butterflies, Purple Emperors possess a long and romantic history in this country. The tales of those seeking out Emperors are almost legendary, such as the elderly entomologist who specialised in finding Emperor's eggs in their food tree, the Sallow and one day fell from one such tree looking for eggs and subsequently died of his injuries. Or what of those who concoct a foul smelling paste to smear on branches to attract the Emperor or lurk by dog faeces knowing the Emperor's unsavoury habits and delight in feeding on the most unappetising of substances.

The first specimen of this butterfly ever recorded was called Mr Dale's Purple, as it was part of a collection owned by a Mr Dale in 1704. Subsequently the name changed to The Purple High Flyer or Emperor of the Woods before finally settling on Purple Emperor in 1766. Other names that have come and gone are Purple Shades, Iris, after its Latin name Apatura iris, just plain Emperor 
and His Imperial Majesty, this latter often shortened to the acronym H.I.M. and still fondly used by Emperor enthusiasts today to convey the reverence in which this butterfly is held. 

Dennis Watkins-Pitchford, well known as the author of a series of exemplary nature books and writing under the pseudonym 'BB', always called them Iris and quotes another name in his book, The Sultan of Morocco.  Incidentally 'BB' was responsible for re-introducing this butterfly's eggs to Fermyn Forest in Northamptonshire which is now probably the best site in Britain to go and see Purple Emperors on the wing. You can read about BB's experiences with Purple Emperors in the first two chapters of one of his books, Ramblings of a Sportsman-Naturalist, in which he evocatively takes you back to what seems a lost time of simple pleasures, as his acclaimed writing conveys the excitement and thrill of finding and studying Emperors.

We waited quietly in the small, sun warmed and dusty car park at Bernwood, surrounded by ancient Oaks as the strengthening sun began stimulating butterflies to become active. Fast flying Silver washed Fritillaries, striped and spotted black on orange, came to energetically feed on the bramble flowers, a White Admiral did a passing impression of a Purple Emperor, gliding low with flicking wings across the car park before settling on a sunlit hazel leaf and pale grey Purple Hairstreaks flickered from oak leaf to oak leaf high in the trees above us.

Male Silver washed Fritillaries
We waited on and then came that magical moment when His Excellency descended from his leafy throne in great swooping curves, sailing on outspread wings of brown, white and purple, guided by alternate flicking and gliding to circle low and imperiously around the dusty ground of the car park until, upon finding a suitable source of nutrients in the sun baked ground, he settled and allowed us to cluster round like acolytes. 

It is only from certain angles and when the wings are open that the purple blue glory of colouring on the upperwings becomes apparent and it is one of the highlights of watching a male Emperor when the overall brown of the butterfly is magically transformed from the mundane to the sensational by a flash of  royal purple on one or both wings.

As usual everyone took many images with a variety of cameras or just watched the Emperor going about its brief existence as a flying insect. It was quite restless, moving position regularly but never leaving the confines of the car park. It examined the footwear of a couple of us before moving onto and landing on Chris's shoulder and even entered the open hatchback of one of the cars, investigating and searching the bags, for who knows what. All in all it was present for a delightful forty minutes before flying off and upwards to disappear into the Oaks.

His Excellency examining the contents of a hatchback
Another appeared in the car park towards the end of the first individual's stay and made a similar tour of the car park but quickly departed and indeed a third arrived a while after that or maybe it was one of the previous two returning. It was impossible to tell. The multiple sightings meant that this was a good day for Purple Emperors in Bernwood.

Their charisma, beauty and capacity to thrill and inspire had completely taken my mind away from the nightmare that is currently being enacted in my human world. Here the natural world was without guile and rancour and I was at peace.  

The main ride through Bernwood Forest
I spent all day in Bernwood Forest and the nearby Waterperry Wood, where I found another Emperor gliding around the top of a huge Oak tree, and returned home spiritually refreshed but physically tired. I slumped into a chair and searching for the cricket commentary turned on the news by mistake to learn...........

Angela Leadsom, who is pro badger culling and  fox hunting, does not believe in climate change and wants to sell off our forests, had been appointed Environment Secretary!

And then the news came from France and a huge sadness overwhelmed me that this world which is so beautiful in so many natural ways is still being consumed by evil, hate and violence............

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful. Our affinity on political matters only makes me like this more. And I agree that at times like this 'nature', in its various forms, is a tonic.

    My only small query is that Mrs Leadsom, for all her many faults, was convinced that climate change is real during her tenure at the Department of Energy and Climate Change. Though I would agree that she is far too relaxed when it comes to doing anything about it.

    Still believe you ought to be turning your writing skills to something of lasting effect. Writing so affectingly is a real gift.