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Nature Notes

July Nature Notes

Martyn is undertaking the Camino de Santiago – the Way of St. James – and understandably is not in a position to write any July Nature Notes. I think it is more than probable that the weather would have featured in his monthly comments. .A few days before the D-Day, seventy-five years ago, a violent thunder storm resulted in torrents of flood water cascading down from the Moors and caused untold flood damage to the village of Holmfirth (better known to most of us as the setting for “Last of the Summer Wine”). Roads were ripped apart, bridges were swept away, houses and shops flooded and damaged, the dairy and mill partially destroyed, many families made homeless and three people killed. It became known as the “Forgotten Flood” because news of the flood, along with any weather forecast details, was censored during the preparations for D-Day. Certainly the weather during June was as unpredictable as ever – ‘cool breezes heavy showers possibly thundery in places’ still featured in weather forecasts towards the end of the month. Martyn would have had to contend with some of the effects of “Storm Miguel” as it tore across the northern parts of Spain, and I wonder whether he has been able to witness the nests made by storks. These birds are very adept at building nests in the most precarious of places i.e. on top of street lights and telephone poles, and in the recent violent storms many had their nest completely destroyed. However, they are resilient creatures and would have carried out rebuilding as soon as the storm had passed.

According to the Butterfly Conservation after the succession of poor weather years saw the number of butterflies bounce back to near record levels in 2018 and the mild sunny weather in early spring this year has seen some exotic butterflies and moths from the continent getting themselves established in Britain. Not such a good situation for the swallows and house martins. These migratory birds have declined significantly in numbers over recent decades. They have had to contend with huge variations in weather conditions in (southern) Africa causing a vast loss of their normal food supply of insects. The nightingale has also had problems with which to contend not caused by the impact of man and climate change, but the increased deer population commandeering their habitat and munching their way through the nightingale’s foraging and nesting areas.

If Martyn had departed his house in Casteljaloux in mid May, and assuming that nothing untoward had affected his progress, he should now be close to Santiago de Compostela. “Santiago” is Spanish for Saint James – know as Saint James the Greater one of Jesus’ first Apostles. St. James travelled to Galicia (northern Spain) in an effort to spread Christianity, and according to legend returned in AD44 to Jerusalem with two converts. It was not a happy return because the King – Herod Agrippa – had him captured and executed, and then denied permission for him to be buried in Jerusalem. His two Spanish disciples became so concerned that they engineered to have his body stolen and then undertook a perilous return boat journey to Galicia. They came ashore some distance up stream of the estuary of the Rio Ulla at (what is now called) Padron – supposedly named after the rock that enclosed the remains of the Apostle James. Now fast wind on to the 9th Century and King Alfonso II had become so impressed by the missionary work of James that he declared that Saint James will be the patron of the Spanish empire. To commemorate the event King Alfonso commissioned the building of a chapel and that place became know as Campus Stellae (Field of Stars),which morphised into ‘Compostela’, hence Santiago de Compostela. I look forward to reading about Martyn’s travels along the “Way of Saint James”.

M.J. Frost