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Nature Notes September

Nature Notes

Nature Notes are usually written a month or more before you see them, so they may sometimes seem a bit out of date. I am currently writing these in France on August 9th. By September, autumn will have started and the leaves of some trees will have begun to turn and blackberries will be adorning the hedgerows.

Currently, France is experiencing a series of “canicules”. These are heat waves or mounds of hot air moving north from the Sahara Desert through Europe. The temperature at night remains hot at more than 25 degrees Celsius. The daytime temperature reaches the high thirties.

Now is the time for insects. In France, cicadas “zizz” from the tree tops with bush crickets and grasshoppers stridulating from hedgerows and grass. Butterflies such as swallowtails, gate keepers, clouded yellows, red admirals and small blues adorn flowers. Solitary and social bees and wasps hunt for nectar and meat among the living and dead animals that they can find. Female mosquitoes and midges hunt for a blood meal from humans and other vertebrates so that they can produce and lay eggs. Furthermore, spiders (not insects of course) form gossamer traps for these in and out of our houses - a mixed blessing. Lizards also hunt for small creatures, but usually insects like ants and butterflies. Birds too hunt aerially or glean the tree tops for insects. Even in mid-august some of insectivorous birds are migrating back to Africa. Most swifts have gone, but I saw 2 late ones this morning.

The cycle of life in the natural world is both delicate and robust. If we disturb an animal when it is breeding or eliminate insects with poison, we remove elements of a dynamic ecosystem. We depend on these ecosystems for services such as oxygen from green plants and plankton, pollination of fruit and vegetable plants, the decay of waste and the formation of fertile soils by dung beetles, worms and bacteria etc and even the regulatory control of insect populations by birds and spiders. All these things are happening spontaneously, but many of these systems are becoming unbalanced due to our excesses of modern living. Sadly, climate change is now a stark reality, species decline, and extinction also. However, as far as nature is concerned, these are simply changes that open up niches for new organisms. As such, Nature is robust and will continue, but if we are to do the same, I believe we must take our lessons from nature rather than abuse it.

Dr.Martyn Stenning