Category Archives: butterflies

Is Rebugging the Planet possible? by Vicki Hird

The decline of insects should be a concern to everyone, whether bees or earwigs or anything else.

So often people hate them irrationally and buy “pesticides” to get rid of them. As most – almost all – are not pests these concoctions should not be called pesticides but something else.

It could be a council of despair but everyone can do their bit to help “bugs” – growing carefully chosen plants in one’s outside space, whether few square feet or several acres, limiting use of “pesticides” to actual pests, and then sparingly, and having a bit of a scruffy garden.

Read mark learn all this as a spider eats its prey

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a new nature blog

A guest blog today from Vicki Hird, whose new book Rebugging the Planet: The Remarkable Things that Insects (and Other Invertebrates) Do – And Why We Need to Love Them More has just been published.

My new book, Rebugging the Planet presents a proposition that we need to, and can, reverse the declines in invertebrates because they matter in so many critical ways.By ‘Rebugging’ I mean understanding and accepting and enhancing the role that bugs play. And it is not only about insects (or the true bugs – entomologists be kind) but the rest of the critical populations of worms, zooplankton, snails, rotifers, spiders and so on that make our planet liveable in. The book explores what they do for us, what we can learn from them and from rebugging and why we need to. The huge threats they face from pollution, climate change, habitat loss and new threats of…

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Darwin on Design, Doubt and suffering

Darwin is reckoned to have killed design ,

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At present there is much interest in understanding suffering ,due to the coronavirus.
 
some have written books on it, and then by default look to the Fall to explain suffering . Or else reckon that yonks ago the Devil introduced it when he mucked up creation.
 
Odd readings of Romans 8 are used to support this.
 
we cannot get away from suffering and ultimately we have to admit that it is written into the fabric of life and not malevolence nor a punishment for sin.
 
Here I deal with Darwin, first on design and then his problems with suffering, which we must all identify with but what is more interesting are his problems with doubt and suffering which I expound at the end of the referenced paper at the end.
 

He was greatly concerned by suffering , whether Annie’s death, the treatment of slaves or even the behaviour of the ichneumon fly.

ichneumon

Last autumn I found that Tortoiseshell butterflies were being caihght in spiders’ webs and then packaged to be eaten later.

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Today when cycling on the Lune eastuary I found a tortoiseshell struggling in a web with a spider bearing down on it. I decided to let Incy-wincy have his dinner . I didn’t get a good photo.

Darwin felt the problem of suffering but there seems to be no answer, except that suffering has been around as long as life and is not something introduced into the natural world, wither by the devil, or god gatting annoyed with scrumping!!

Here is my rather old paper published in Science and Christian Belief in 1997 , for which I received a $2000 prize from the Templeton Foundation

 

Dsdoubtdesign

 

 

 

It is uninteresting to contemplate mangled banks and verges … (with apologies to Darwin)

It is uninteresting to contemplate mangled banks and verges, clothed with few plants of fewer kinds, with no birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitted away, and with no worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that all those elaborately constructed forms, which were there before, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us, are but a shadow of what is there now after the mowers moved in.

Many will realise that is a parody of the fantastic poetic conclusion to Darwin’s  The Origin of species.

It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, ……..

 

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That might baffle you why this photo is here and what it is.

It is the flower of one of 25 Southern Marsh Orchids mown down on a tiny grass verge in Lancashire. This flowered was beheaded or decapitated by someone unaware what it was, and perhaps it is reminiscent of the head of one of Henry VIII’s many victins on the executioner’s block.

Here is a fine specimen of a Southern Marsh Orchid a few hundred yards away and then the verge as it was early in June before the phantom mower came. The first is from an “amenity centre” which fortunately is not mown indiscriminately and one of a hundred along with a host of other flowers. The second is of the narrow verge of short grass where 25  orchids were flowering until 11th June 2020.

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That changed when it was mowed on the morning of 11th June. Wyre Council claim it was nothing to with them

https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2020/06/13/decapitating-orchids-in-lancashire-environmental-vandalism/

The grass was so short. The first shows one surviving ording and the second a mangled one.

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Another example near Scorton of Red Campions and cow parsley just trashed.

 

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Mowing machines have been the scourge of lockdown this spring. I don’t mean those which you use (or shouldn’t have used) to mow your lawn, but the excess misuse of mowing machines on roadside verges this year. It’s not only Lancashire but every part of the country as mowers have gone in and removed the flora.

Consider the contrast both in beauty and wildlife of these two images taken from twitter

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Every day over the last few months I have noticed mangled banks and verges, where mowers have gone in to do their damage. I ought to explain that most days I go out for a 30 odd mile cycleride in the lanes of Lancashire. Rather than improve my speed, I prefer to see what is there and especially enjoy the wildlife, whether a hare, rabbits, stoats, various birds including the Purple Heron. I had a close shave when a buzzard nearly flew into me near Inskip. I also look at the flora and continually improve my skills of identification.

But as I saw the trashed flowers the words of the last paragraph of The Origin came to mind and then I decided to parady it in honour of the mowers.

It is uninteresting to contemplate mangled banks and verges, clothed with few plants of fewer kinds, with no birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitted away, and with no worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that all those elaborately constructed forms,  so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, which were there before,have all been produced by laws acting around us, are but a shadow of what was there before the mowers moved in. These new laws of environmental vandals, taken in the largest sense, being no Growth without Reproduction; Inheritance which is almost lost by lack of reproduction; invariability from the indirect and direct action of the external conditions of  the fossil-fueled mowing machines, and from extermination; a Ratio of Increase so low as to lead to an inevitable Death, and as a consequence to Unnatural Selection, entailing loss of Divergence of Character and the Extinction of all improved forms. Thus, from the war against nature, from moving, pesticide and herbicides, the most unexalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the loss of all fauna and flora, directly follows. There is no grandeur in this view of life, despite life having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved, are now being hurried to extinction by the wanton disregard of the Creator’s allegedly highest creation, the damned miscreator.

I have come across not only those decapitated orchids, but rare stands of Ragged Robin and Red and White Campions with their hybrids cut right down. I have only seen one example of those two floral gems. That is apart from  common wildflowers being mown down just before flowering. I blogged some details of the mowing here; https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2020/05/24/where-have-all-the-flowers-gone-stripped-from-verges-everyone/

The total area of road verges in Britain is immense as mile upon mile of 2 metre wide strips adds up to an awful lot, giving space for an immense diversity of flora and thus of insect, bird and mammal life. We cannot afford to lose it. It is comparble to domestic gardens which are increasingly hard-surfaced or put down to plastic grass.

Sadly , this mowing has taken place throughout the countries of the UK. Many have complained to their local councils.

I have complained to local councillors from Lancashire County Council and Wyre borough but have had no useful response.

In my twitter comments I also linked to the twitter accounts of Lancashire County Council and Wyre Borough Council, which elictied responses, which were unhelpful. LCC were quick to say verges were Wyre’s responsibility. But Wyre said that the verge with the orchids was not their remit. Even senior employees of either council gave me no answer. As a result I cannot say who was responsible and only deal with the results.

The results are very clear;

  • Mowers have no regard for flowers, whether common, or less so, in flower or in bud, and simply mow them down.
  • In many lanes a mown strip 2 to 3ft wide would be sufficient, but often anything up to 12 ft /4 metres from the road is mown, without regard to the flora.
  • often strips are mown right up to base of a hedge, if present, thus removing plants about to flower or in flower eg. ramsons, campions, ragged robin , various parsleys, Meadowsweet, vetchs etc.
  • A frequent appeal is for safety and visibility , but that would never require mowing back several metres from the road.

My observations also indicate that councils are not the only ones mowing, as it is often done by local farmers or residents, and, possibly other bodies.

I would suggest that every local council and councillors  need to be challenged on this by as many people as possible, until a better policy is implemented.

Despite by very much an amateur naturalist, it is clear to me that councils need good sound botanical advice to inform their mowing regime AND then enforce it.

I could go on, but will finish with quoting that final paragraph of Darwin’s Origin,  which is an excellent scientific picture of our natural world.

Have lived in Shrewsbury, Darwin must have ridden past many entangled banks as he travelled the area on his horse. Some of the best banks were on his various routes to Woodhouse, where his visited his first girl-friend Fanny Mostyn Owen, before he went to Cambridge.  The entangled banks near Downe House are equally gorgeous.

So I’ll give Darwin the last word, with a few of my photos.

The conclusion of The Origin of Species (1st ed)

 

 

It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank,

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clothed with many plants of many kinds,

 

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with birds singing on the bushes,

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with various insects flitting about,

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and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. These laws, taken in the largest sense, being Growth with Reproduction; Inheritance which is almost implied by reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct action of the external conditions of life, and from use and disuse; a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less-improved forms. Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

********

A most useful guide on how verges should be mown

 

https://www.plantlife.org.uk/application/files/3315/7063/5411/Managing_grassland_road_verges_Singles.pdf

Decapitating orchids in Lancashire. Environmental vandalism

Being retired I go out most days for a cycleride near Garstang in Lancashire. Usually I cover 20 to 40 miles and average about10 mph. I don’t cycle for speed but to explore and make great use of OS maps.

Recently I have been looking more and more at verges with their variety of flowers and change of flora during the seasons. Often it is fantastic to see what is there. I also note mammals and birds,and had a close shave last year when a buzzard missed me by inches!

Sadly in the last few months I have a spate of phantom mowers who strip the verges of all greenery and don’t give a damn about flowers.

As a result of finding so many flowers decapitated and mangled I wrote a blog last month

https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2020/05/24/where-have-all-the-flowers-gone-stripped-from-verges-everyone/

I often end up in Lane Ends Amenity area near Pilling, which is totally man-made and has two lakes. The material was used to make sea defences. At any time of the year there is something to see but the best is March to July as these photos show

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In March and April the central “meadow” is covered in cowslips and then other flowers take over, most notably Southern marsh Orchids and some hybrids. There are a large number of them, but some vandal dug up the biggest clump in May.

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There are also scabious, poppies, red and white campions. moon daisies, bacon-and-egg and other flowers

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I visited again on Thurs 11th June and enjoyed the various flowers. I then cycled out of the entrance where a week earlier I saw these lovely southern Marsh Orchids in short grass on the verge.

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i have to admit I felt a sense of foreboding  as I cycled out on to the road (entrance is by the clump of white moon daisies at the end of the road.) Sadly my foreboding was justified. Gone were the 25-30 orchids and only two were still standing.

This photo shows the area mowed – just a narrow strip of grass, no more than 9 inches high.

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Here is the damage.

The left photo shows one survivor and the right a mangled orchid.

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Here is a flower I put on top of a post – rather like an executioner’s block and another lying forlornly on the ground..

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More decapitated orchids

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These two photos are looking eastwards to the Lane End’s entrance. It was mowed on both sides, but on the left they stopped before the daisies. Even so there was no need to more.

The second shows the strip with orchids with another survivor.

 

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Another view looking east, with the large white clump of moon daisies in the distance.

It shows the contrast of the mown and unknown verge and the height of the original verge.

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While taking photos a dog-walker went past and she told me that the Environment Agency had come to mow it in the morning. I am not convinced that it was the EA, as if so some of their operatives will be in serious trouble. I hope.

I peddled off in a filthy mood and later looked at the flowers on the embankment beyond Fluke Hall.

On Friday I sent another email to my Wyre Councillor and hope for an explanation .

I put details on twitter so various councils and environmental groups could see yet another example of damage caused by mowing.

Mark Billington Corporate Director Environment tweeted to me on the matter twice on 12th June;

Michael – I understand your concerns but I do not believe that this work has been undertaken by Wyre Council.

It appears to be a highway verge@wyrecouncil do not control all grass cutting within the Wyre area.

At present I cannot find out who mowed it. Maybe an FOI to Wyre council may help?

This spring I have been appalled at the vandalistic mowing of verges in my part of Lancashire – Fylde and Wyre Council areas.

The decapitation of these orchids is only the worst example I have found on my travels.

Only on occassion did I see Wyre workmen mowing – with limited sensitivity.

Most of the time I cannot work out who did the mowing but it is often excessive cutting 6 feet or more of verges when 2 to 3 foot would be ample by any standards. The usual answer is for safety and visibility, but that would only apply to verges by road junctions.

Sadly this story is repeated throughout the country.

It does seem that those who mow have had no training on the value of wildflowers and other flora, not only in themselves but also to encourage bees , other insects, small mammals and birds, and don’t seem to get beyond “tidiness”.

I also reckon that local councils are shirking their responsibilities.

orchids

 

Being retired I go out most days for a cycleride near Garstang in Lancashire. Usually I cover 20 to 40 miles and average about10 mph. I don’t cycle for speed but to explore and make great use of OS maps.

Recently I have been looking more and more at verges with their variety of flowers and change of flora during the seasons. Often it is fantastic to see what is there. I also note mammals and birds,and had a close shave last year when a buzzard missed me by inches!

Sadly in the last few months I have a spate of phantom mowers who strip the verges of all greenery and don’t give a damn about flowers.

As a result of finding so many flowers decapitated and mangled I wrote a blog last month

https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2020/05/24/where-have-all-the-flowers-gone-stripped-from-verges-everyone/

I often end up in Lane Ends Amenity area near Pilling, which is totally man-made and has two lakes. The material was used to make sea defences. At any time of the year there is something to see but the best is March to July as these photos show

P1030459P1030577

In March and April the central “meadow” is covered in cowslips and then other flowers take over, most notably Southern marsh Orchids and some hybrids. There are a large number of them, but some vandal dug up the biggest clump in May.

P1030713P1030693

There are also scabious, poppies, red and white campions. moon daisies, bacon-and-egg and other flowers

P1030761P1030762

I visited again on Thurs 11th June and enjoyed the various flowers. I then cycled out of the entrance where a week earlier I saw these lovely southern Marsh Orchids in short grass on the verge.

P1030687P1030688

i have to admit I felt a sense of foreboding  as I cycled out on to the road (entrance is by the clump of white moon daisies at the end of the road.) Sadly my foreboding was justified. Gone were the 25-30 orchids and only two were still standing.

This photo shows the area mowed – just a narrow strip of grass, no more than 9 inches high.

P1030773

Here is the damage.

The left photo shows one survivor and the right a mangled orchid.

P1030765P1030767

Here is a flower I put on top of a post – rather like an executioner’s block and another lying forlornly on the ground..

P1030768P1030769

More decapitated orchids

P1030770P1030771

These two photos are looking eastwards to the Lane End’s entrance. It was mowed on both sides, but on the left they stopped before the daisies. Even so there was no need to more.

The second shows the strip with orchids with another survivor.

 

P1030772P1030774

Another view looking east, with the large white clump of moon daisies in the distance.

It shows the contrast of the mown and unknown verge and the height of the original verge.

P1030776

While taking photos a dog-walker went past and she told me that the Environment Agency had come to mow it in the morning. I am not convinced that it was the EA, as if so some of their operatives will be in serious trouble. I hope.

I peddled off in a filthy mood and later looked at the flowers on the embankment beyond Fluke Hall.

On Friday I sent another email to my Wyre Councillor and hope for an explanation .

I put details on twitter so various councils and environmental groups could see yet another example of damage caused by mowing.

Mark Billington Corporate Director Environment tweeted to me on the matter twice on 12th June;

Michael – I understand your concerns but I do not believe that this work has been undertaken by Wyre Council.

It appears to be a highway verge@wyrecouncil do not control all grass cutting within the Wyre area.

At present I cannot find out who mowed it. Maybe an FOI to Wyre council may help?

This spring I have been appalled at the vandalistic mowing of verges in my part of Lancashire – Fylde and Wyre Council areas.

The decapitation of these orchids is only the worst example I have found on my travels.

Only on occassion did I see Wyre workmen mowing – with limited sensitivity.

Most of the time I cannot work out who did the mowing but it is often excessive cutting 6 feet or more of verges when 2 to 3 foot would be ample by any standards. The usual answer is for safety and visibility, but that would only apply to verges by road junctions.

Sadly this story is repeated throughout the country.

It does seem that those who mow have had no training on the value of wildflowers and other flora, not only in themselves but also to encourage bees , other insects, small mammals and birds, and don’t seem to get beyond “tidiness”.

I also reckon that local councils are shirking their responsibilities.

Bringing Ancient Grasslands into the heart of our towns and cities.

More on encouraging wildflowers, and thus bees and birds – AND SAVING MONEY on urban areas of grass

The Intermingled Pot

A decline in insect numbers, children losing touch with nature, adults in total ignorance of their local cultural heritage, and local government cutbacks. What can we do to help?

IMG_2749 This used to be a municipal incinerator; in 1995 it looked like this https://www.flickr.com/photos/crumplezone/7197765196 

In 2016 Natural England published its Conservation 21 strategy  (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/conservation-21-natural-englands-conservation-strategy-for-the-21st-century ) which proposes a future based around the following three guiding principles

• creating resilient landscapes and seas
• putting people at the heart of the environment
• growing natural capital

An efficient and sensible way to solve all of the above problems is to bring our rural ancient grasslands into the heart of our urban areas: Cowslip, bird’s-foot trefoil, autumn hawkbit growing on our urban road verges so they can be seen during the year by every child as they walk to school, every adult as they drive* to work, and also used as food…

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Where have all the flowers gone? Stripped from verges everyone.

One of the joys of cycling the lanes of Lancashire is the profusion of flowers and plants in the hedgerows and verges. My cycling is more to explore than to clock up the miles. I explore using ordnance survey maps so I can find new lanes and places of interest. I cycle all year round, so see the countryside in all seasons. I only avoid ice and high winds!!

Each year I cycle over 4000 miles with rides from 20 to 50 and occasionally more miles. Thus I tend to go down the same lanes many times a year. Speed is not my aim and I am always looking at the flora and fauna and stop if there is anything of interest. I always see and note the changing seasons. Although my botanical skills are not great, I note where particular flowers blossom and when. Often I chooose a route to see what flower I expect to see has flowered.

A few weeks ago I tootled past this fantastic array of forget-me-nots. It was downhill but I kept my brakes on so I could take it all in. 8 mph was better than 18mph!

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There are many other examples and best savoured at a slow pace. Granted I couldn’t do more than 5-6 mph going up Beacon Fell.

Look at the variety Alkanet, Welsh Poppy, Ramsons, Red Campion, Queen Annes Lace, and finally some hybridizing Red and white campions.

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It is difficult not to think of Darwin’s beautiful conclusion to The Origin of Species seeing these displays.

“It is interesting to contemplate a tangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent upon each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. These laws, taken in the largest sense, being Growth with reproduction; Inheritance which is almost implied by reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct action of the conditions of life, and from use and disuse; a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less improved forms. Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone circling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.”

It is all absolutely wonderful until you cycle after someone (who knows who?) has been along the lane with a mowing machine and shredded up to six foot or more of the often flower-rich verges. As I cycled along this lane I did not think of Darwin but wondered who could have such a lack of concern or knowledge of the countryside. Today, a fortnight after cycling this, I was there again and it is still a mess.

 

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This is not so much mowing as mangling. Hardly good management.

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Darwin needs bringing up to date;

It is awful to contemplate a mangled bank, clothed with so few  plants, which have been mangled by a mower, with no birds singing on the bushes, with various insects unable to find their food, and no hedge garlic for the orange tip butterfly to lay its eggs. And to hell with the orchids.

This is the same lane as above. Campions nestle against the hedge, but you can see the mangled ones in front .

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I cannot understand why such a wide strip needs mowing. In fact here, they failed to mow adjacent to the road but just carved at least a three foot strip mangling the flora.

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Then cycling near Inskip I found six foot of verges had been mowed to destruction as you can see in the three photos below..

Why do this? There is no reason for visibility. as for tidiness only a stroip about 2ft wide is needed.

Further it is very rough mowing done with no concern for precision or tidiness and even less for the flora, however common it may be. Of course, there are those who will see those plants as “weeds”, thus needing removal as they have no purpose

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A little further on was a pole in the middle of the verge preventing  the mower from reaching much of the verge. This mean some flowers were left and here some Queen Annes Lace and some vetch. This is what the stretch of road in the previous photos would have looked like.P1030444

A mile or so along the lane the verges were mown down to the soil ripping up ramsons and Campions.

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Isn’t this so beautiful? I can’t imagine Darwin finding it interesting to contemplate.

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Elsewhere hedge garlic, the home to orange tip caterpillars  is often shreddedand cut back, thus assisting in the decline of butterflies.

I often cycle along the lane west of Cartford Bridge, which overlooks some of the lower reaches of the River Wyre. Recently as I went down this stretch I looked for the interesting hybrids between Red and White Campions I had stopped and photographed a week before.

They were no more – sacrificed to the great god the mower. I was furious.

 

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Here are the campions I’d photographed on my previous ride.

Now I could wax lyrical on them! The most obvious sign are pink flowers in contrast to the pure white one and very deep pink or red ones. I won’t go into the shape of the leaves and other aspects or how you can tell between boy and girl plants! I am not very good on the sex life of Campions.

I was pleased to find this site as occurences of hybrid campions are not that common in this part of Lancashire, and this seems to be an outlier. (But a competent botanist may correct me.)

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A few days after this cycling near Stalmine I found this heavy handed mowing removing a good foot of growth.

Some would argue that this was done for drainage reasons. If so, it should have been done at least a month earlier or last autumn.  By now plants like meadowsweet or purple loosestrife should be a foot high. In fact, the ditch by the end of Union Lane was cut back several months ago and now has meadwosweet and purple loosestrife thriving.

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Carrying on up the lane I came to turn-off to Stalmine and found the phantom mower had been hard at it.

All that was needed was a yard strip adjacent to the road, rather than removing everything right back to the hedge.

That is all that is needed for visibility for dangerous road-users, unless they were Borrowers.

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Last year cycling above Claughton I so pleased to find a hundred yard log stand of ragged Robin in flower. Here it is today> If you look carefully you will see ONE Ragged Robin flower.

As you see a FOUR foot edge was mowed, which can have no justification for visiblity or tidiness.

This is only one of two locations in Lancashire that I’ve found roadside Ragged Robins. The other was a lone flower in a bank at 240  metres three miles away.

 

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These are just some of the photos I started to take in April as I realised what was happening. These go up to 20th May.

Obviously as I cycle at a sedate rate of 10- 15 mph I have time to notice things, you wouldn’t if you were trying to better your time on Strava or driving, but this is why I cycle the way I do.

I like to see what is there; flora, fauna, buildings, boundary stones and anything of interest. As well as flora I’ve seen Great White Egrets, Purple Herons, Owls, Hares , Rabbits, Stoats, various butterflies etc. In February  cycling towards Eagland Hill I saw a Kestrel hovering , two buzzards being mugged by crows and then the temporary resident the Purple Heron. I have been hit by a small bird and last year a buzzard missed me by inches!!

Come a month or two I shall be looking out for knapweed, purple loosestrife and other flowers.

My worry is that this kind of mowing will remove not only the wild flowers but also insects and birds.

That is why it needs to stop and be properly managed.

About myself, I am more of a person interested in wildlife, both flora and fauna, rather than having any special skills, so this blog is a protest against the wholesale cutting down of verges while in flower.  I accept they need cuttting but that should be done taking flowering into consideration. Here is Plantlife on the mowing of verges. Very wise;

https://www.plantlife.org.uk/application/files/3315/7063/5411/Managing_grassland_road_verges_Singles.pdf

All Councils – Parish, county and district/borough need a coherent strategy on the management of verges. They also need to take advice from a competent ecologist. It is not something to be left to someone with a mowing machine, who may think that weeds need to be cut to the ground.

I have lodged a complaint with my local councillors and have had a positive response.

In contrast to this Wales is different as this BBC article shows

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-52708577

With a good example

View image on Twitter

And a bad one

View image on TwitterImage

 

Finally, in contrast to my amateurish complaints, here is some informed comment.

  1. A recent conference on the management of verges

https://theintermingledpot.wordpress.com/2020/03/02/some-notes-from-the-road-verge-conference-in-suffolk/

2. An old blog from a botanist dealing with these problems, giving links to how various councils in England are managing verges.

https://theintermingledpot.wordpress.com/2017/08/01/rural-road-verge-links/

3. The policy of Dorset County Council.

https://news.dorsetcouncil.gov.uk/2019/06/17/our-roadside-verges-a-fine-balance-to-strike/

Each of these will give a professional amplification of my concerns.

I will leave you with this image. It is better for bees, insects, birds and humans

Verge flowers

 

 

 

 

Chronicle of a Grassland Saved

The dangers of tree-planting as the universal panacea, without checking what is already there.

an excellent blog giving a much needed warning.

BTW I have 30 rowans looking for homes

a new nature blog

For those of us of a certain age, The Milky Bar Kid was part of our childhood. A boy, dressed as a cowboy, implored us to eat white chocolate  – which was not particularly popular back then. By coincidence one of the boys who played The Milky Bar Kid (there were several) was at the same primary school as I was (there was a famous acting school nearby). I remember him being a bit smug, but then who could blame him? He was The Milky Bar Kid! There was a catchy jingle which I can still recall 50 odd years later. The funny thing is now I realise that white chocolate doesn’t have any more milk in it than milk chocolate (perhaps it has less)  – it’s white because of the cocoa butter that’s used, not the milk. Amazingly, Milky Bars are still selling well nearly 85 years after they…

View original post 1,396 more words

The Garden Jungle? gardening to save the planet?

Recently Dave Goulson, a professor at the University of Sussex published, The Garden Jungle? subtitled gardening to save the planet? (Jonathan Cape 2019)

I loved the book as it spoke of so much which has been one of my concerns and loves for four decades – wildlife gardening. My gardens have always been a mess, but always have wildlife lurking.

Whenever our grandchildren come to visit us, the first thing they do is to check the baby frogs in our tiny pond. In less than a minute they each have a frog and only after that do they want to see us! They have their priorities right.

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Before anyone thinks we have a large garden, our garden is as small as any suburban garden can be. When we moved in six years ago, it was a wildlife desert. At the back was a tiny lawn along with an area laid down to slate. Most of the front was covered in golden gravel. There were two miserable cypresses, some hebe, forsythia and, best of all, a camellia. I had brought with us, some honeysuckle and various tiny shrub cuttings and a rowan, which I had found as a three inch seedling in our old garden. It is now 12feet high and bearing berries.

It was not a good beginning, but we bought various containers and filled them with lavender and other smaller shrubs. Our choice was governed by selecting bee and bird friendly plants. After a year the gravel had to go, and go it did! Once I removed the membrane I found clay, which was almost pottery quality – that was depressing.

Slowly plants were put in and mistakes made. A major problem was flooding after heavy rain, which killed our first primulas, though primroses and cowslips survived. I decided against costly preparation of the soil and opted for a slow, continual improvement. I applied some organic matter – horse manure, composted everything, put our tea-leaves and coffee grounds in the containers – and also eggshells in the front garden. Whenever we went near a Starbucks we collected their coffee grounds and put them in the front. So far no neighbour has complained of the smell of a coffee shop! For a more vertical garden I used old pallets with varying success. Succulents proved to be the best option. I found rushes, alder and willow appeared at times indicating that fifty years ago it was essentially marshland.

One of my aims was to make the garden wildlife friendly. That cannot be said for nearly half the gardens in Garstang as so many are hardscaped or turned over to plastic grass. Gardens, which a few decades ago had a variety of flowers, shrubs and, maybe, a small tree, now have few plants. A major problem was to change my perspective from a large vicarage garden to a tiny one, necessitating smaller shrubs.

After six years much is settled! We have two rowans, heavy with berries, a malus. I admit to being a buddleia freak; two globosas, which need pruning every two years, orange, white, deep purple and pale purple davidiis, a minature white davidii, and an alternifola!

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Others include berberi darwinii, Mock orange, lavateria and various others. Smaller ones include a variety of hebes and lavenders. On flowers spring bulbs, cowslips, primroses and other primulas, smaller aster, sedum,

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On the right is a tortoiseshell wrapped as fast food by a spider!

black-eyed susan, moon daisy, to mention some. And the pond – which is 2 ft 6in by 18in. In it I have marigold, iris and oxygenating plants. Last year frog-spawn appeared but none this year, but I was given some to save it from fish.

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So what has been gained? Initially very few birds visited the garden but have increased in the last three years. These are restricted to crows, pigeons, blackbirds, great tits, bluetits, robins and not much else. That has been disappointing. Butterflies are far better with an excess of whites, but also Tortoiseshell, Red Admiral, Peacock and, especially this year, Painted Lady. On sunny summer days I expect to get up to twenty. Small moths are common but in 2017 and 2018 we were visited by a Hummingbird Hawkmoth. Most numerous are bees, hoverflies and wasps, who are remarkably noisy. Occasionally a hedgehog visits as do frogs but not toads or newts. I admit to not looking for the myriad other insects.

I know many will see more wildlife in their garden, but this has improved and in an area where nearly half of gardens have been de-gardened and hard-scaped.

I have never been a single-minded gardener and do too many other things like cycling and walking to spend more time in the garden. This is not my first attempt at wildlife gardener as I started when we moved into our first vicarage with a large garden in 1980. Then it was more eccentric than today and I noticed that most clergy ignored their gardens except to mow. Many were devoid of plants of any kind. Even so, in 1980 there were several books on wildlife gardening which guided me and, of course, my preferences took over.

The first garden was in Walton. Liverpool and was a haven to wildlife. There were numbers of frogs and toads and I recorded nearly 40 different birds. Our daughter had a habit of presenting toads to visitors! I bought relatively few plants and propagated like mad, scrounging cuttings. Some were then propagated and planted in the next two gardens and in my present one. Our yellow rambler roses are suckers of suckers of suckers of suckers of a rose my mother bought in the 60s! Nice to have a plant’s history.

From there we moved to Chirk in North Wales and took many small plants with us, including diverse sorbus grown from seed. I sunk an old bath (from a parishioner) as a pond which attracted frogs. We had a similar range of butterflies and birds, including a sparrowhawk, which came down and removed a sparrow I was watching eating honeysuckle berries. A less desirable form of wildlife gardening were the rabbits.

From there we moved to Lancashire and took many cuttings and seedlings with us. There my attempts at any gardening were thwarted by a dog, who dug everything up. Even so the garden was most hospitable to wildlife and, on one occasion, some local cows.

In each of these gardens I planted a wide range of shrubs, trees, bulbs and flowers and each bore fruit in wildlife.

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I am growing rowan from seed. Photo June 2018

Six years ago we retired and moved from large vicarage gardens to a smaller house with a tiny garden. Looking back I wondered why we chose it, but the house was suitable. The garden was dire. The back was a postage stamp, half put down to lawn and the rest to shale. There were no plants. Most of the front was “golden gravel”. On the side was a Camellia  – the best plant in the garden, two forsythia, and two decrepit cypress-type trees which I soon felled. For the changes I have described them above.

We live on a typical 1960s estate, where gardens used to be gardens. Now about half have been totally hardscaped in the front, with the removal of all larger shrubs and trees. Several have those lovely plastic lawns. This is done for a variety of reasons; less maintenance, more car parking are the two most common, but there is a negative side. Gone are the gardens which provided a haven for wildlife, even if the home-owners were not wildlife gardeners.  They inevitably reduce the number of urban mammals, birds, amphibians and insects. A garden absorbs more rain than a paved area, so hardscaping makes a contribution to flooding. They also absorb Carbon in the soil and in vegetation – again lost. That does not consider the beauty of the variety of gardens in a town – ok some were bad!!

So much for me, what about Dave Goulson’s excellent book The Garden Jungle? subtitled gardening to save the planet? It is not a handbook on how to wildlife garden, there have been a succession of those in the last four decades and now you can find much on-line on the RSPB or Wildlife Trust pages. The title and sub-title are to provoke thought. The book is clearly about gardening for wildlife but goes beyond that. Many still think gardening is where every plant has its place and is neatly manicured, and you could almost do that with the older style of wildlife gardening. I didn’t because either I was looking at insects instead of manicuring, or going out on a bikeride in the countryside or climbing a mountain. Or bone idle.

A garden is normally seen as fairly formal, like a park, or like an old-fashioned country garden, flower meadow or a gentle piece of English woodland. Much of English woodland is soft and gentle and can be epitomised by walking on a path through a beechwood carpeted in bluebells. It is restful, soothing, beautiful and safe and predictable. A jungle is not. Yes it is beautiful, but anything but predictable as when I found a very large snake lying on a jungle path in Uganda! (That was less scary than putting my foot six inches from a sleeping Cape cobra in a desert!) Not that would happen in an English country jungle, but there may be grass snakes or even adders! Wildlife gardening to produce a garden jungle will be full of surprises as creatures pop up in unexpected places. By that, most will think of animals, especially mammals, amphibians and birds, but it must include insects, fungi and surprise surprise – plants.

The subtitle gardening to save the planet is clearly provocative. In a sense it is daft. If every garden in the world was wildlife gardened that would not solve the problems of the environment and climate change. However I think Goulson realises that and chose that subtitle to make his readers think. There is no one magic bullet to save the planet and you would have to be a pedantic literalist to think Goulson meant that! Wildlife gardening would make a difference and anyone who practices wildlife gardening sees the benefits, if only in their own garden. It is ONE of the things needed for the planet and I won’t list the rest. It also has the effect of changing the person and making them more aware and then as a result is evangelistic – as happened to me tonight having advertised buddleia cuttings. Some people want them and that will mean more moths and butterflies in our neighbourhood. OK only a dozen or so, but multiply that a million times. The subtitle shows that we are not just given a Haynes manual for wildlife gardening (Haynes manuals were great when you could actually fix your own car with a few spanners.) but great writing on the subject with a certain impishness. I hope nobody who’s a humour amputee reads the book.

Having said that The Garden Jungle is easy to read, amusing and humorous and goes beyond usual didactic book.  The author takes it as read that his readers will have some knowledge of wildlife gardening, so he spends no time on the basics. For that there are myriad books and websites. He goes beyond the basics to consider the forgotten creatures, mostly biddies and wider issues. Thus he has no chapter on butterflies, though he frequently discusses them. When considering the creatures in a wildlife garden he goes for the less iconic ones with chapter on earwigs, moths, ants and worms. There is a reason for this. So often we only think of the nice, iconic species – pretty birds, fluffy mammals and gorgeous butterflies, but Goulson wants us to think more deeply about the “bad and the ugly” which are essential for life, and that includes us. These “nondescripts” are under real threat but stay under the radar. Hence chapter 3 is on Earwigs, animals I’ve never thought much about and frankly did not care about. Earwigs are often seen as pests to be sprayed but many gobble up aphids and thus do us a service. He puts earwigs in a new light as valuable creatures in the garden and beyond and that only rarely are they pests.  The main point of this chapter is not to squish or spray everything. However our culture is that we should spray or squish insects, even when they are doing no harm.

Moths are often overlooked, especially the myriad micro-moths, but recently we have been reminded of their decline in The Moth Snowstorm as not so long ago our windscreens and headlights always had loads of moths sticking to them. The decline of moths is manifold and include unintended consequences of urbanisation, insecticides, pesticides intensive farming etc. There is not one cause but many. His chapter on bees is almost counter-intuitive. He notes with favour the increase of people having beehives, but points out what should be obvious. There is no point in have more hives if there are not more flowers to give nectar. We have got it the wrong way round by having more hives!! Along with flowers bees of allsorts need somewhere to nest and he gives advice on bumblebee nests.

Some years ago we visited Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico, the day after a year’s rainfall had fallen in an afternoon! (The annual rainfall was 4ins and 3.8 ins fell the previous afternoon.) Chatting to the rangers I happened to say worms are the most important creatures. Well, I was soon told that ants are more important!! It was very good natured, but it depends how dry or wet the soil is. Goulson devotes a chapter to each expounding the worth of both. Probably in drizzly Britain we are inclined to put all our support for the worm, as our worms are more ubiquitous and our land is not peppered with anthills. Goulson brings out the value of ants, if only to control aphids, and then fulminates against their destruction, pointing out the wealth of anti-ant “pesticides” available. (I just checked the B & Q site and noted the pesticides available.) Worms are far more popular, but all is not well. Farming practices reduce worm populations in arable fields. Goulson compares his measurements on his land and a nearby field and found that his land contained 16 times as many worms. His conclusion is obvious.

His chapter on “Toxic cocktail” is worrying. Any form of –cide whether pesticide or herbicide is inevitably dangerous as a –cide is for killing. Since WWII these –cides have been the first resort of farmers with government support and of gardeners. A visit to any garden centre should reveal that. I will not forget a churchwarden spraying moon daisies in a churchyard and many more examples can be given and not all as bad as spraying Naled in a county of South Carolina just in case some mosquitos were carrying the zika virus. I feel Goulson has over-stated the case in this chapter, but all –cides should be a last resort not the first and applied with a sniper’s rifle rather than a AK-47. I admit to using glyphosate sparingly and to certain pesticides after washing up liquid has failed. There is a case for GMOs here, which, to some, puts me beyond the pale. But I am an environmental heretic far worse than Arius who got punched by Santa Claus. (AD325 at Nicaea)

The final chapter “Gardening to save the planet” is far more reflective, yet still written in his mischievous style. The garden centre gets some stick for often being Tatshops selling “pointless and beautifully presented tat”. I went to one today for a card and puked at the Happy Holidays tat (I won’t say Christmas).

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Toilet at garden centre

Away from that was everything in the arsenal against ants and any other perceived pests. He makes valuable comments on plants sourced from the continent (thus less good in Lancashire for a start), sprayed excessively, grown in peat and put in plastic pots. Clearly a good money spinner but it is better to grow your own and propagate. I went to a friend’s vast neglected garden today and planted 8 buddleia, load of buddleia cuttings, a few cotoneaster and hebe and a load of willow cutttings for a boggy patch. The cost to me was that of driving to his house. Now if I’d charged £5.95  per buddleia………..

His section on growing food was not for me as I do not have room for two rows of potatoes! Growing food in gardens and allotments has declined for many reasons. Goulson revels in it but I do not, partly from laziness and partly from cycling and walking.. From there he moves to food waste – 33% in the UK and 505 in the USA – the figures say it all. And so to emissions from farming as well as the chemical-drenched monocultures.

And now for the sermon!

He ends with an appeal to look after soil, grow a variety of crops, encourage  pollinators, and natural enemies, minimise or eliminate pesticides and fertilisers, compost  and recycle.

Perhaps the best way of visualising the loss , and especially the loss of soil (or peat) is to consider a post at Holme Fen in East Anglia which was driven into the peat soil in 1851 – the year of the Great Exhibition and is now four metres in the air , due to the loss and sinking of the soil. It is similar on Hawthornthwaite Fell in Lancashire. Both bring the problem home in the starkest way.

 

You have been warned

 Each chapter begins with a recipe, none of which I have tried!

At the end of the book he comes down to practicalities and gives a list of 16 favourite pollinators and 12 to provide berries for birds, along with instructions for a wormery. Maybe I have been lucky but I always seem to have lots of worms, As for plants I relied on older lists going back to 1980 and the RSPB provides useful advice on the website today. I admit to having strong preferences for certain plants.

https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/advice/gardening-for-wildlife/

The book, and even my blog, will be a success if readers reconsider what they plant and grow things according to the needs of wildlife, and possibly our food, rather than pretty and garish colours which do not attract insects, which attract insectivores, which attract predators AND ensure our future as well.

This could have been a very depressing book as it presents the sorry state of our planet. Too much environmentalism today is all doom and gloom, offering no hope or future for the young. “You have stolen my childhood.” With this and the apocalyptic fear that the young will die not of old age but the effects of climate change and that the world is on fire, so much activism is full of despair without even one flicker of hope. I will fail to identify them! Against this Goulson writes in a jovial style with a certain style of humour. He no more denies the seriousness of  problems than Churchill did in 1940. But rather than lying down in a lock-on of despair, he encourages his readers to fight in the gardens. Realistically,wildlife gardening will not actually save the planet, but it is great for morale as was the Dambusters’ raid. However wildlife gardening gives hope, even just flickers of hope, and that is contagious. Many, who would not consider themselves wildlife gardeners or desperately green, do have a sneaking fear over the future of the planet with all the news on Climate Change. I would suggest Goulson’s main targetare those who are already green(ish) and to challenge them to do more.

Locally in my town as I write this, I have done more than I hoped for by accident. Far too many gardens in my town are being hardscaped or laid down to (bacteria-ridden) plastic grass, with plants and shrubs simply ripped up. There are two local Facebook pages, one on general issues and one on local wildlife. Being November I had to prune back my buddleias of which I have too many and of four different colours. Rather than put the cuttings to green waste, I offered them and put them in several buckets according to colour. At least ten people have taken them and it got lots of FB “likes”. The hard-nosed will dismiss it as ineffectual, but probably more important than the slight increase in insects next year is increase in awareness. Now I’ve got to get rid of 30 teasels in the spring……… Perhaps one does need to say it with flowers.

The Garden Jungle is a challenging book and really aimed at those already somewhat green! Wildlife gardening will NOT save the planet, but will help to do so if it makes people think more about the planet.

 

 

Nature red in tooth and claw in the garden

Much of my planting in my tiny garden has been to encourage wildlife. For bees and butterflies I’ve planted loads of sedum spectabile aka Ice Plant. This has been highly successful from the numbers of hoverflies, bees and butterflies. This summer, if the weather was reasonably fine, I could go out and expect to see a good number of butterflies.

However, today I’ve seen the other side of nature – red in tooth and claw – as at least two tortoiseshells have met their doom in a spiders web.

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Earlier today I was pleased to see a few tortoiseshells appreciating my sedum and buddleias. But it got sinister.

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Here is a spider munching away on a butterfly a few inches from the happy tortoiseshell

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Dinner was almost wrapped to be ready to eat.

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Here you can see the spider inspecting its dinner.

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The spider left its supper when I re-appeared! The spider was chomping away and then scuttle d away staying on its web and is visible in the middles of the sedum.

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Meanwhile a few inches away are two bugs I cannot identify. They look similar but different colours.  edit The greeny one seems to be a Green Shieldbug nymph

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and again.

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Meanwhile in the back garden a tortoiseshell which had been feeding on a buddleia had been trapped in a spider’s web.  The spider wrapped it up in silk in preparation for dinner.

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The poor thing was hauled off to safety in a nearby hydrangea.

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and dinner began

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unless the spider was waiting

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and so it was pulled out of sight and ready to eat.

Two memorable takeaways!

This was so unexpected and very rewarding.

Of course it raises issues about the harshness of the natural world and for a theist of any sort even more issues as Darwin  raised in connection with his favourite Ichneumon fly.

https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2015/05/06/parasitic-wasps-and-the-death-of-jesus-with-hat-tip-to-darwin/