The Return of the Burnet Moths.

One of the pleasures of walking the same route along the cliff top almost every day for many years now is the way that I am able to notice the seasons and the changes around me as each year unfolds. The memories and resonances which this brings go with me on my walks and enrich my daily routine. This is true not just on a large scale, the leaf fall, the spring tides, the may blossom and the summer visitors but also on a much smaller scale. The pattern of dry roots in the path where it threads through some low bushes which will fill up with mud in the winter, the fresh cow parsley which will soar up to replace the dry winter skeletons of last years plants, the way that the leaves will turn and show their soft pale undersides to the wind as they are blown back towards the sea and the change in the light on a winter afternoon as the sun dips down and illuminates the dried grasses poking their heads up through the fresh snow. This simple knowledge, knowledge which only long observation can bring, makes the landscape into a home and the observer becomes a part of the stream of life within a single place. Many people would have been familiar with this feeling of belonging in past generations as they worked the land and stayed where they were born but life has changed and it is a rare gift today.

There are two changes which give me more pleasure than anything else, the return of the swallows, suddenly there swooping low and feeding up after their long flight and the hatching of the Burnet moths in early July. This (2013) looks like being a good year for them after a decline caused by a very hard winter a few years ago. As soon as July came I was ready to keep an anxious lookout and I didn’t have long to wait. In the cool grey early morning of July 1st there were three and now, just a few days later, a run of good weather has brought the wild flowers into bloom and brought dozens them out of their cocooons to spread their wings in the sunshine and sip nectar. They are everywhere, their tiny red and black wings blurred as they spin from flower to flower, thistles, dandelions, orchids, wild roses, are all settled on and investigated anxiously as their tiny legs cling on to the swaying plant in the breeze. Once a firm foothold is gained they unroll their proboscis and drink quietly while their open wings and abdomen move gently up and down. When they are doing that you can get as close as you like. Their whole being is focussed on feeding and they notice nothing else. Several of them can be on one plant, each lost in their own sweet world of satisfaction and exploration. Nothing else up there is red and black, they bring their own contrasting notes of vibrant colour for all too short a time to complete the picture of of life on the cliff top. It’s as if a master painter had wandered along the path adding the final touches which bring a work of art to life. When they are gone I shall miss them, but as I walk the path next winter I shall take pleasure in the fact that somewhere, hidden from sight, their descendants are waiting.


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