Our Patch: Avoiding the Cracks in the Pavement

By on Monday, July 22, 2013

our_patch_sj_jarmanWhat a week of incredible weather, wall-to-wall sunshine driving many of us outdoors at every given chance. Sunshine brings out flowers and insects as well as smiles and greetings from passers-by.


We humans are so good at not seeing what’s under our very noses; wildlife really is all around us. The hidden benefit of a council under budgetary restraint is that they do not have the funds to spray herbicides around so frequently, and nature does not take long to reclaim its territory.

I managed to identify several species of wild plant growing in an area of two square metres, all in or against walls or erupting from the borders of the pavements. Hardly a centimetre of earth in places, yet those seeds have remarkably managed to germinate.


I’m quite attached to this little patch of foliage and blossom breaking out in our urban jungle, and rather wish that it was always allowed to flourish – I don’t see the harm, and in fact it helps to connect our gardens, which are an incredible interlocking habitat for our wildlife, whose natural spaces are rapidly disappearing.

When I stopped to smell the roses, as it were, I was pleasantly surprised by the wealth of insects partaking of this little oasis, although they also provided me with an hour or so of frustration at the many missed photo opportunities, and my general lack of camerawomanship.


Pictured: Top left, sow thistles; top right, broad-leafed willowherb; above, great willowherb; below, rose bay willowherb and sow thistle.


My eye was drawn to a dazzling blue beetle no larger than a ladybird, a blue mint beetle. I don’t think I would ever have spotted this had I not been examining these surprise bouquets bursting from the concrete. Other beetles to be found were ladybirds, 7 and 11 spotted ones and small chafers.

Last week there were swarms of these small innocuous brown beetles around our homes and gardens in Prescot and Rainhill. My children were delighted to catch two or three and race them – they weren’t great on the flat, and had a tendency to fly away, but it kept the girls quiet for half an hour.

My favourite, though, has to be the soldier beetle (below), a blur of orange in flight, readily perching to feed from flowers, giving great views and the chance to get the camera out. That’s not why I like them so much though; it’s because of their familiar name. It brings out the schoolgirl giggles to remember they are also known as ‘bonking beetles’ due to their voracious ‘appetites’ – they’re often found in pairs mating.


The bio-diversity we can experience in any familiar place is often taken for granted. How many of us have a flowering shrub such as honeysuckle or buddleia in the garden which attract butterflies and bees? Lovely enough, but to sit for a while and see what has actually come to visit can be enlightening.

These plants are not only the ideal food for day flying butterflies and moths, beetles, bees and flies, but a tempting delight for the mysterious night-flying nectar gatherers too. Although I have as yet to capture images of these elusive creatures, I have a plan, and I hope to share some new and exciting discoveries soon.

Big Butterfly Count

I’ve particularly enjoyed the re-emergence of some of our beautiful butterflies this week. Most of the regulars are yet to appear, a fact I’m hoping is down to the late spring/summer, but we have had some. Dusky speckled woods in and out of the privets, proud small tortoiseshells (below), large and small heaths whose photos seem indistinguishable, large and small whites and very uncooperative small skippers in abundance.


We also have day-flying moths in our grasslands, the most conspicuous being the very attractive six-spot burnet moth (below). In previous summers the air has been filled with them, but rather worryingly there see to be far fewer this year.


So as the cloud forms overhead again, and the weather returns to its more usual state, try if you can to sit and watch for a few minutes and see the micro-environment in your own space.

If you can spare fifteen minutes to watch for butterflies (great excuse for having a coffee in the garden), the 2013 Big Butterfly Count runs from 20 July to 11 August. Log on to www.bigbutterflycount.org for an identification chart and to report your findings.


SJ, also known as Sarah and Sarah-Jane, held her dream job as a breastfeeding peer support worker until becoming a full-time mum of three. She still volunteers at Whiston Hospital.

In her spare time, SJ loves to read, and play cello with the Knowsley Youth Orchestra. She confesses to being a secret singer ever since hubby Trev bought her SingStar.


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