Country diary: the insect mosh pit in the chalk scrub

I am in the garden, gently nodding along to the strains of Joy Division – specifically She’s Lost Control, being played for the fourth time that morning by my 18-year-old son. It is not until the synth snare veers off that I realise I’ve been bopping along to the stridulating chirps of an indie punk grasshopper. It is time to go out.

Between Sheepless Hill and Combe Wood, there is an insect mosh pit down in the chalk scrub. These areas of low scrub on the high chalk are quite distinct from the open down and woodland edge, and are more often mown out of existence. On this south-facing slope, taller wildflowers mingle with bramble and dewberry briars, the latter’s fruits ripening independently in blue, black, purple and red. The sparse, clouded drupes may look like inferior blackberries, but their taste is more reliably sweet. The scrub ends in a frothy, petticoat surf of fragrant hedge bedstraw at the fence. Inside, it’s a riot: a collision of colour clash and buzzy feedback, swaying in the hot breeze.

The Sgt Pepper military yellow of St John’s wort rocks against the stiff purple mohicans of knapweed, wands of agrimony, and electric-blue viper’s bugloss. To accompany the wild herbs of calamint, marjoram and thyme on the down below, here are the wild root veg. The bridal-white umbels of wild carrot (its unopened flowers crushable lace wineglasses of rose fizz) are accompanied by zingy, lime-green wild parsnip.

Valerian, knapweed, hedge bedstraw, agrimony, St John's wort, and lady's bedstraw.

Orange skippers, meadow browns, gatekeeper and chalkhill blue butterflies spiral in leks and duels among bees, flies and hoverflies. They vie for the elevated, perfumed platforms of valerian. Marbled whites whirl like slivers of Bakewell tart icing and a big, blowsy, silver-washed fritillary the colour of strong tea emerges from the shade to party.

In the centre, hanging like a bright fizzing disco-ball from a vaulted briar, is the glowing core of a field rose bedeguar gall, its wiry, pom-pom filaments exploding like a new star.

My son’s music is still ringing in my ears; this time, the lyrics “life ain’t always empty” from Fontaines DC. Back home, his bike is gone and there’s a note: “Gone for a blast up the hill. X”.


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