Friday, 6 December 2013


My early morning listening on BBC 4 had an article on the world-wide disappearance of insects butterflies and moths necessary to fertilize our crops in the fields and gardens.

Bees dying of varroa, insecticides killing wild bumblebees, moths, hover flies, ladybirds and a myriad others I would not even recognize, nor would a large number of the green conservationists.

I have suffered severely from the loss of bees from my hives, not only in Cornwall but here in Tuscany and on trying to refill my colony this year have been told that my supplier has just lost 65 hives from the bee mite. Not all through infestation of mites but the length and low temperatures of our past winter.

So no bees, or so I thought this year, well not for me anyway.

Our spring has been no better than our winter and in June by now we would expect uninterrupted sunshine. Instead we have two or three days of sweltering heat, upon which we switch on all cooling effects possible within the house and then three days of cold when all fires are lit!

Today, on my way to my Ferrari tractor walking up the driveway I was stopped in my tracks beneath the lime trees by the sound of bees and a myriad of other insects sucking the lime flowers dry of pollen and nectar. This is not a sound, it is a loud noise. Something one would not expect from something so small but multiplied by one hundred thousand, is really quite overpowering.

I stood and examined our hungry visitors. The list, if I had known half of their names, would have filled a foolscap page. Insects of every size, colour and uglieness were filling their tummies with food either for themselves or their young. Butterflies covered the trees, proboscis rampant! Probably moths will join their throng at dusk, together with the fire-flies. So here in Italy, no problem.

In England, only common sense tells us that as more and more hedgerows go and extra herbicides are used, then more wild insects are going to suffer. When will somebody do something in the government to stop this idiocy?

Insects have more than their fair share of predators which was proven by one of the most extraordinary experiences of my life. Something I will remember when I lie on my couch preparing myself to meet my Maker.

Following my walk beneath the lime trees to mow the olive terrace to the side of the house mulling over the extraordinary amount of wild life non extant in our area of farmland in Italy, I began mowing.

Out of a clear blue sky I was hit by an avalanche of fifty black javelins giving an aerobatic display that would be described as showing off.

My tractor was surrounded, dive-bombed, hassled, skimmed, frightened, stopped, startled, its safety endangered, by a black cloud of the most beautiful, chattering, streamlined blue-black spitfires.

Something I was doing when cutting the long grass had signaled a mid day feast to these heavenly creatures and that, together with teaching their newly flying young how to hunt had led to a feeding frenzy of extraordinary proportions.

I had not taken my camera as I was not expecting anything unusual to happen to me but when I did get it I found it an impossible sight to catch on film. They were just too fast.

The birds would come hand in hand in a straight line, five abreast towards the tractor and at the last moment having caught whatever the tractor was scaring, peel off on either side to feed again. I swear one or two were so close they were taking a fly off my nose. 

They made hand-break turns, barrel rolls and a display that could only be beaten by one of their own kind.  Nothing mankind could make could come close to the brilliance of their flight.

It confused but delighted me.

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