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The Dandy Highwayman

  • Thu 23rd Apr, 2020

One day I see endless green verges on my lockdown walk, a depressing monoculture of one colour; grass and more grass. A few short days later I start the same walk and as if by magic the grass has been hijacked by dandelions. The blossoming speed has taken me by surprise and lifted my spirit. My thoughts are now overtaken by the wonder and colour of these flowers, no more worries about coronavirus or work.

A wonderful grass verge full of colour and great wildlife habitat near Haxby on my walk © Richard Baines A wonderful grass verge full of colour and great wildlife habitat near Haxby on my walk © Richard Baines

Diversity of colour in nature has a profound effect on my mind taking my thoughts in all sorts of directions. I start to look for more flowers and find daisies in amongst the dandelions. Almost as striking as the yellow dandy’s are the blue forget-me-not flowers growing in clumps closer to the hedgerows.

Forget-me-not flowering on the verge in profusion© Richard Baines Forget-me-not flowering on the verge in profusion© Richard Baines

A bright orange flash cuts through my vision, I quickly follow the colour and find a male orange tip landing on a dock leaf. I decide to do a butterfly count on my walk and find four orange tips flicking about the lush leaves and flowers around my feet.

Male Orange Tip on nettle © Dan LombardMale Orange Tip on nettle © Dan Lombard

There seem to be more this spring than for many years. The reduction in council mowing in late winter has allowed more chrysalis to survive through to early spring at which point they emerge into amazing butterflies. What a wonderful gift non-work has given us!

A Honey Bee takes pollen from the dandelion nectar © Richard Baines A Honey Bee takes pollen from the dandelion nectar © Richard Baines

In high spirits I continue my walk and hear a curlew singing from a nearby pasture. Another great find and close to the city of York. With little traffic noise I can hear the song like never before. Further down the road my butterfly count stalls as I walk past sharply mown verges, a male orange tip flies past me, faster and at a higher height than I had seen before. He is undoubtedly travelling, looking for better habitat further down the road, we are both let down by the lack of flowers.

By the end of my walk my count is 18 orange tip, two small white, one large white and 12 small tortoiseshell. A total of 33 butterflies, far more than I expected to see. Maybe I should have counted dandelions!

Female Orange Tip in my garden © Richard Baines Female Orange Tip in my garden © Richard Baines

Nature always has the last say. When I get home a male and female orange tip are mating on my lawn, I didn’t even need to leave my garden to enjoy their beauty. Over the hedge our grass verge is full of dandelions and forge- me-not flowers. I feel a responsibility to cut the grass but my walk has now inspired me to leave a wide border where nature can hijack our gardens and lift our spirits.

To help and learn more about your local butterflies see the Butterfly Conservation web site they have a great new counting project. Click Here

Richard Baines

Yorkshire Coast Nature