Before I moved to Scotland, I hadn’t appreciated how tall its national flower can grow. These thistles alongside our garden wall are as tall as I am – that’s 5’4” (or 163 cm to you metric types).
Today, they are aglow with small tortoiseshell butterflies. Small tortoisehells are more colourful than their large cousins, and I love the sapphire edgings to their wings. It’s a delight to watch them drowsily flitting from one flowerhead to another, unfurling their tongues and pausing for long minutes to drink nectar in the sunshine.
It is especially pleasing to see these small tortoiseshells, because I haven’t seen any for years and years. Their population in the UK has dropped by something like 80% over the last two decades, thanks (it is said) to the invasion of a parasitic fly from Europe, which lays its eggs in the caterpillars.
Perhaps it’s just my perception – I haven’t examined the figures – but it seems to me that Scotland is more protected than the rest of the UK against species losses caused by non-native species. I have not seen one single harlequin ladybird, a recent American incomer; yet it has apparently become so prevalent in England that our native two-spot and seven-spot ladybirds are under threat of extinction. The coniferous forests to the north of us have thriving populations of red squirrels that aren’t being ousted by the greys’ diseases. The biggest alien threat to Scotland’s indigenous species appears to be the rhododendron, and even this is receding.
I wonder how much of this species hardiness has to do with the northern climate and environment, how much has to do with human intervention, and how much with the fact that we are so far away from the Channel Tunnel.