Rewilding for Butterflies and Moths

Rewilding for Butterflies and Moths

Rewilding for Butterflies and Moths

In the tidal wave of gloom, doom and dreadfulness I personally find myself often crushed entirely by the weight of what’s wrong with the world. I find myself feeling helpless, useless and worthless, beating myself up over existing and consuming like a Westerner. Much of what we’re urged to do is couched in DON’Ts. Don’t fly, don’t have an SUV, don’t buy X, don’t have children. Sometimes it makes me feel like removing myself from the equation entirely, because it’s impossible with the DON’Ts to even begin to come close to being carbon neutral.

Rewilding is a buzz-word that has attracted both criticism and praise. It’s quite a Zen sort of thing, because the practise of rewilding is something that is very active but in a way that can look like doing nothing. Not hauling up the dandelions in your lawn might to some look like laziness but it’s a conscious decision based on a deeper understanding of ecology. To spend time in careful, conscious, loving observation of a natural space is a radical act that to someone outside may look like doing nothing. Sitting, watching, waiting, making notes of what you see and then thinking deeply about it does not have the drama of chainsaws and spades. The act of letting things be is one that is counter-cultural in a way that baffles people. We are brought up with a colonial, saviour-complex mentality that infiltrates our existence: our patch cannot possibly manage without our interventions. We must treat our lawns and destroy the cockchafer and daddy-long-legs larvae that eat the roots of our grass or we’ll have no bowling-green-smooth expanses to admire from afar. The fact that a garden that encourages the presence of starlings (among others) to peck in squadrons of downed murmurrations will reduce the burden of those larvae and the presence of bat-roosts and swift boxes locally will thin the population of the adult insects. It’s about balance.

One of the things people are happy to do in their gardens is to plant flowers that encourage pollinators like bees and butterflies. Growing fruit and veg in your garden benefits from having such critters around, which is why, I suspect, that many do it: the collateral benefit to the self. Contrary to popular belief the honey bee is not endangered. It’s the other sorts of bee that is. Not to mention the wasps that everyone loves to hate. But butterflies are struggling. If you grow nectar plants, you may have noticed a reduction in the range and numbers. That’s because they need a lot more than just nectar. The adult butterfly we love to see is the final stage of a complex life cycle. At the point we see them, yes, they need nectar but they also need the food plants their caterpillars need (and these are varied, and species specific. A species that requires jack by the hedge (aka garlic mustard) cannot just decide it’ll eat nettle instead. And while a number of species do eat nettle, there’s a huge number of lepidoptera that lay eggs on grasses. Grasses of different species and heights offer a menu to a great deal more butterfly species than the shaved carpet of monoculture that’s the prized lawn. Since we began to care for our lawn differently, encouraging other types of grasses, reducing how often and how close we mow, we have had a boom of butterflies and moths that are beautiful grass and heathland species and even some woodland species as well. Meadow browns, small coppers(edited as someone informed me I am unlikely to have seen a large copper as they are supposedly extinct in England. I’m still not sure!), skippers (large or small, hard to tell as they are our fastest flying butterflies, heath butterflies, gatekeepers and others, have begun breeding in our garden. Holly blues and the common blue butterfly flit around like pieces of sky. I’ve seen a surge in moth species I’ve never seen before, from the dramatic and colourful like small and large emerald moths and the huge yellow underwing moth, to the cunning and intricate like The Shark that disguises itself as gnarled wood, or the angled shade moth.

The imago stage of butterfly/moth life is also one we forget about. They spend a varying amount of time in chrysalis, hiding in undergrowth, under leaf litter, in dead wood, and close to the ground under the grass. Raking away and burning all that destroys them all. Leaving space for untidiness preserves them. Nature is not tidy. Flowers seldom grow in rows naturally. If you leave these areas of “mess” there are places for birds to forage for invertebrates, to feed themselves and their young, and over time, the balance between too much and too little of those invertebrates will be sorted. You may still get holes in your cabbages but once the ecosystem has built up, you won’t find them reduced to skeletons. You will have the delight of seeing birds, insects, small (and larger) mammals, amphibians, and if you are lucky, reptiles too, in your own backyard. And if everyone who has even a small space (window-boxes and pots are mini nature reserves) changes the way they manage it, that adds an immense amount of space for nature to be and to thrive.

It also helps stop people feeling as if there is nothing they can do to fight the climate crisis. When we forget that we too are part of nature, when we choose to pretend we are above all the creepy-crawlies and the weeds and the vermin (as people will deem invertebrates, wild-plants and the creatures we find troublesome) we doom ourselves.

A New Year Begins At Imbolc

A New Year Begins At Imbolc

A New Year Begins At Imbolc

Happy New Year!

You might think I am late but it depends when you decide a new year starts. The Celts started their new year at Samhain (our Halloween). The Romans chose their Saturnalia celebrations to mark one sort of new year. We’ve also recently celebrated Chinese new year (year of the black water rabbit, in case you weren’t sure) and now we have just celebrated Imbolc, Candlemas and St Bridget’s Day, all of which herald new beginnings. I stepped into the garden on the 1st of Feb to hear a wren trilling his heart out and to find a clump of snowdrops at the end of the garden under some of the apple trees. There’s been sweet violets blooming shyly in the front garden for at least a couple of months, sheltered from the cold in a raised bed overshadowed by taller, denser plants. Winter is receding but knowing the British climate, we’ll have snow later this month. But the light is returning, several minutes every day and the bird song has changed from contact calls (“Are you there? Did you survive? Hey, I survived too!”) to the first of the spring songs.

I did some clearing of old files a few days ago, mostly to keep myself from thinking about the insoluble problems my country faces right now. There’s a big bag of paper to be disposed of securely; old bank statements, medical letters and the like. But among the paperwork I found a printed-out email from my friend Dr Jean Raffa, from Feb 2012, about a dream I’d had. It reminded me first how long I have been working on my inner life, and especially concentrating on dreams, and at first it made me feel disappointed in myself that I seem to have made so little progress. I have had now over ten years of almost unremitting depression. Deep, deep depression that might lift a tiny bit for a week or two, only to be plunged back in, either by outside circumstances or by absolutely nothing. That feeling of sliding inexorably into the black pit is possibly one of the worst feelings possible. In this time I’ve dealt with major illnesses, surgery, serious bereavements and the chaos that follows in their wake, and the acquisition of a handful of chronic conditions that all include constant pain, low mood and little hope, plus the diagnosis of being autistic (which has taken time to process – it really makes sense of so many other things). With all that is the grind of ordinary life – cooking, cleaning, shopping, rinse and repeat. I have been so tired it sometimes feels like I need to rest constantly yet at least one of my chronic conditions is worsened by inactivity. I’ve walked this tightrope between too much and too little, and I have fallen off repeatedly.

I said that at first it made me disappointed in my lack of progress in this essential soul work, but over the following few days, I found I felt more proud that I have persisted. I have a brooch my dear friend Gill gave me, that says, “Still I rise,” and I wear it often, usually without realising its truth that is embedded in my every day. I have persisted. I am still here, I still get up in the mornings and face the day. Sure, I sometimes go back to bed later but that’s understandable. I show up.

About twenty years ago, my husband went for an interview to be minister to some villages somewhere south of us. One of the factors that had interested us was the place had a holy well, a wellspring that had healing powers recorded for many hundreds of years. We both felt that renewing the connection between that spring and the church was something that we felt was important. But the job wasn’t right and that was that; we went somewhere else entirely. I kept that spring in my heart, tucked away in a quiet corner, wishing that it might one day be recognised and rejoiced in by more than occasional pilgrims, and for the connection between earth-based spirituality and the core of Christianity to be renewed in that place. The other day, in one of those random coincidences, I saw a series of photos from the village with the spring that gave me a real lift: the local ministers holding a beautiful service for Candlemas, including mentions of St Bridget, at the spring. Lots of smiling people in the sunshine, participating in a gentle rite that connected them with both the past and the present, rejoicing in the clear bright sparkling water. The things that are meant to happen (I hate that phrase) find their way. Life, uh, finds a way. We’d tapped into something deep and old in our resonance with that spring, but it wasn’t us who did it. But it’s happening and while it’s twenty years later, I must believe that it is in its own right time.

I must believe that my own soul work is in its own right time, that I am not slow or pathetic or stupid for being stuck working at what sometimes feels like the same old same old for more than a decade. About 18 months ago, I began to receive help on this journey (not something I want to explain further) and sometimes it has felt as if I am walking through that dark wood of Dante’s, but sometimes I get glimmers of hope that something, something very different to what I might have expected, is taking shape. The last few days it has felt like there is more happening, as if the first gleams of light at sunrise are turning the grey garden to brighter colours. I didn’t want to let my long silence here go on without writing something; I have felt often so lonely, so excluded from the vibrant conversations I sometimes witness my online friends participating in, because I have not had the energy to respond, to comment or to reach out to the many friends I have here in this non-physical sphere. Friends who have new books out, new projects, exciting discussions; I feel some mild guilt I have not been able to support them better or indeed, at all.

So I say again: happy new year. I hold a tender bud of hope; let not the frosts blight it.