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Butterflies and baby courgettes in an Indian summer
Friday, 04 October, 2002

Countryside columnist John Sheard takes the opportunity to enjoy a bit of rural peace and quiet as he enjoys the late summer.

IT WAS a case of All Quiet on the Countryside Front this week - and what a blessed relief after months, even years, of being at the centre of a battlefield. The politicians had other things of their minds - mainly adultery - countryside campaigners were taking a rest after the great march, and it was time to let the mind wander...

To red admirals and peacocks, swelling courgettes and swooping swallows - and the benefits, to us Up North at least, of global warming.

    red admiral
 Red Admiral

I sat in the sun last Sunday, sipping a glass of wine, and watched the red admirals and the peacocks aplay in the lady wife's shrubbery where some bushes are flowering for the third time this year.

The butterflies, it seems to me, are more numerous this year than at any times since my childhood and that has got to be a very good thing. But my childhood was associated with truly vicious winters and, by this time of the year, most of their species would have been tucked up tight for the winter.

The same with the courgettes and marrows in the veg plot. They are still swelling and blooming and we give most of them away. But they are amongst the most tender plants in the patch: the first touch of frost kills them stone dead and, only quite recently, I can remember losing them in late August.

The swallows are still here in great numbers, too, long after they had once packed their bags for Africa, and that's another good things too: they keep the flies, midges and other nasties down.

On Wednesday evening, my wife went for a short walk and returned bitten raw by so-called "harvest flies"" - a generic term for many types of biting insects that live in the soil. When she leapt into the shower, a whole cloud of the little so-and-sos filled the bathroom.

Now no-one wants to be eaten alive by midges which should have died off weeks ago - and no-one wants the slugs that thrive in the early morning dew amongst my veg - but aren't these mere hindrances when it comes to enjoying the present Indian summer?

Now I won't dwell on global warming too long, because we have discussed it at length before and the scientists themselves cannot agree whether it is being caused by man-made greenhouse gasses or is just part of the Earth's natural hotter or cooler cycle.

And I know I shouldn't say this, because it is a bit of a gloat. But all the signs are that, as the climate gets warmer, more and more natural creatures are moving north - including birds and butterflies which enjoy a cooler climate.

Now this is a volte-face in human affairs, because for the last half-century or more, most people and much of the wealth in Britain - originally created in the North - have been moving steadily south.

Up here, particularly in the Pennines, we have traditionally suffered the worst that the weather can throw at us: thicker snow, deeper floods, heavier rain, denser mists, higher winds - you name it, we've had it.

The long-term results of these climate changes are still very much a source of scientific debate. But, as the South sucks in our money and bright young people, the fact that we might get some of their birds, butterflies and plants in return might be some small recompense. And an Indian summer like this is something that money can never buy.

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