Allow insects to catch your eye this summer

A green hairstreak butterfly.

A green hairstreak butterfly. - Credit: Marek Mierzejewski (Shutterstock)

I had a flutter of excitement this last week but unusually for me it was not caused by a bird. The little ‘flutter’ caught my eye as I walked the Suffolk coast path at Minsmere on the hunt for rare and passage birds.

It alighted on the path in front of me – a tiny butterfly – and, as my binoculars focussed on its form, my heart leapt with excitement for it was pure green! 

When I say green, I don’t mean a hint of green or a pattern of green shades but a pure, solid Pantone green, like two triangular little leaves had been cut out with scissors and stuck together upright.

Even though I had never seen one before I knew immediately what it was – a green hairstreak – a butterfly on my ‘most-wanted’ list of wildlife sightings. 

Keeping track of this little butterfly was difficult and required I fix my stare on the general area it was in to pick up its fluttering movement. It did however alight for a while and was even joined by two others.

Its wings were always closed at rest, the green underside on show and, had I not seen it land, it would have passed as just another piece of bramble foliage.

The white ‘streak’ across the green that gives hairstreaks their name was virtually invisible, and I marvelled at its perfect camouflage. 

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In Hertfordshire they are a rare and very localised butterfly found on heathland gorse and broom or on common rockrose in chalk grassland. Having now seen one, I think its rarity must in part be due also to its small size and excellent camouflage – from now on I shall endeavour to be more sharp-eyed! 

June is the month for butterflies and with the end (at last!) of the cold and un-springlike weather, I predict an explosion of insect life – butterflies among them. Already I am lowering my binoculars to follow butterflies, damsel and dragonflies across scrub and thorn. 

In Symondshyde Great Wood on the edge of St Albans and Welwyn Hatfield – a great place to see butterflies – I followed a female brimstone butterfly as it danced from sunlit patch to sunlit patch. Deliciously pale and creamy, it traversed a low-lying bramble patch and, all of a sudden, my vision was swimming in a sea of insect life.

As bright as any coral reef shoal, unknown insects, bees, hoverflies, wasps and ladybirds sunned themselves, some airborne and some resting.  Each a marvel in itself and yet so routinely over-looked and dismissed (I speak for myself). 

Yet we over-look and dismiss insects at our own peril for they, in all their millions, sustain life as we know it.  Plants, birds and animals rely on their activity and we in turn rely on them.

Scientists have warned of an ‘unnoticed insect apocalypse’ as studies have revealed we may have lost as much as half of all insects since the 1970s. This, of course, is unsustainable and in an increasingly urbanised society where environments are ‘managed’ to within an inch of their life and plastic ‘fake grass’ replaces natural grass we risk becoming part of the problem. 

It has therefore been heart-warming to see the many photos on social media of unkempt lawns, rich in flowers and tall grasses, inspired by the #nomowMay movement.  Leaving even just a small strip of uncut grass can reap rewards – allowed to grow, ‘grass’ has a beauty of its own and reveals itself to be multiple species. 

Wildflowers quickly appear and attract bees and, if you’re lucky, butterflies too.  Even more than this, a myriad of unseen bugs will appear, and these are the silent majority, doing the important work of the world. 

So, I would like to propose #toosoonJune and leave our lawns uncut for as long as possible. May is a good start but why not allow the grasses and flowers to grow and with them a wealth of insect life?

The only requirement on our part is to do nothing except perhaps to take notice, for nature will do its work. What you will find is a world of tiny individuals, each with their own unique colours, patterns and behaviours.  Once discovered this world it isn’t so easy to dismiss or overlook! 

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