As a result of a very mild and sunny Saturday 18th of February there was, in these parts, a bit of a flush of butterflies. Having noticed some myself and read reports from my email box I began to, once again, think about butterflies and the forthcoming summer.
Since retiring I have spent quite a lot of my spare time in the summer doing butterfly transect walks in two local woods for the Butterfly Conservation Society. This involves following a pre-planned walk which is divided up into sections. The walker records all butterflies seen in each section and then submits them to the central records office. This has been going on for some thirty years and has provided very valuable information into the butterfly population in general and the winners and losers, in particular, each year. It is a very pleasant way of spending a few hours a week and takes place between April and September.I have become hooked because this butterfly watching business gets very addictive. There is the constant hope that a, hitherto, unrecorded specimen will present itself. I always carry a camera with me and can, most of the time, get a picture of anything special.
My particular love of butterflies, as with many things that make me tick, goes all the way back to my childhood days in Kingsley in general and to Mrs. Morris, my school teacher,in particular. For, as I have mentioned in previous articles, Mrs. Morris had a great love of the outdoors and the creatures which could be found around the village, on the common and in the pond. Our class room was usually well supplied with jars, tanks, and boxes of caterpillars, eggs from various moths and butterflies, fish, tadpoles etc etc. For me this was a great and abiding influence for which I remain forever grateful to that lady.
That said, I guess, that like most people when holiday time comes around I find myself looking for a book or two to take with me. I am not generally into novels preferring rather more factual stuff. So it was last summer when I began my usual search for a couple of decent volumes to accompany me across the channel and divert me from all of the other boring things like drinking and eating etc. which holidays demand. Well I came across a gem, at least I think it is. As I shall relate, it came as something of a great surprise to me as much of the book relates to matters around Kingsley and North East Hampshire.
The book, In Pursuit of Butterflies ….A fifty Year Affair, is written by Matthew Oates. Whilst I had come across his name, probably in a magazine or something, I was by no means familiar with him or his work. Matthew worked for many years as an adviser to the National Trust, his expertise being in matters relating to habitat and butterflies and moths. The book deals extensively with his school days and the more I read the more I warmed to Matthew as much of his school days were spent in pursuit of the same creatures I and the other pupils of Kingsley school had also pursued.
Matthew lived near Selborne for several years and during that period he scoured a wide area in search of butterflies. At the top of his list was the magnificent Purple Emperor. A butterfly, incidentally, that I have never seen in the flesh. I found this all the more surprising as Matthew refers to populations of this butterfly in Alice Holt Forest and in the Straits enclosure which were areas that I frequented during the whole of my time in Kingsley. Whilst I knew there were butterflies, in those days, in great numbers, all around those places, I was blissfully unaware of the Emperors presence. Noar Hill, near Selborne, and the East Hampshire hangers feature extensively in the book.
Frankly I was amazed that I had not come across Mr. Oates before or learned of his work, but hey ho, better late than never. It was a joy to spend holiday time in France reading of my old hunting grounds and all of the wonderful species to be found in the area. An easy and pleasant style of writing with plenty of humour and loads of local interest, I have confidence that anyone with an interest in that part of Hampshire and the flora and fauna living within it will not be disappointed with this book. Oh, and if you happen to like cricket, Matthew is an avid fan and the book contains bits and pieces relating to cricketing events. Don’t miss it.