“O, to be in England now that April is there”. Thus, pined Robert Browning when abroad. I have written about this poem before, but I was in England then. I am now in France and face an explosion of nature earlier and more abundant than usually experienced in England. That is why I am here, to study how the biodiversity of our planet increases closer to the equator. I never experienced visiting a foreign country as a child, but some of my friends did, and my first question on their return was: “what wildlife did you see that we do not see in England?”. The reply was a mind boggling list of birds like hoopoes, rollers, storks and cranes. Also, butterflies such as swallowtails and large green lizards. I have seen all these now and much more. Please do not misunderstand me, I love the biodiversity of England and know it very well. It is just my wish to understand global ecology that drives me to travel. Just like learning a language, it is hard to be fully competent unless you actually spend time in the country in question.
Cuckoos, swallows and blackcaps arrived here in France in late March/early April. Probably a few days earlier than in England. Also, birds such as the golden oriole and the zitting cisticola, the latter was previously called the streaked fan-tailed warbler before being renamed recently. Lizards and butterflies (including swallowtail) have been visible for several weeks, orange tip butterflies are particularly numerous as they search out abundant lady’s smock, also known as cuckoo flower and milkmaids, to lay their eggs on. Brimstone butterflies also abound searching for buckthorn and alder buckthorn for the same reason. Insects not often found in England occur, such as carpenter bees and praying mantises, also, some less welcome such as aggressive Asian hornets whose stings can be lethal. Walking through the woods and fields of France reveals sights not often seen in England such as abundant lungwort, grape hyacinth and very early purple orchids. I visited the coast last week, and, when the tide was out, besides finding wild oysters, I also saw a species that I had never seen before. It looked like a coral but turned out to be a honeycomb worm colony. This animal forms colonies that create reefs, mostly in Mediterranean climates, but does occur on some British coasts.
Dr. Martyn Stenning