Don’t waste the sunny spells

The loveable hedgehog used to be feared.
The loveable hedgehog used to be feared.

Written by Heather Elvidge

In June the sun’s rays are powerful – after all, the sun is at its highest and strongest this month. But the outlook is for unsettled weather so let’s not waste those sunny spells.

Our wildlife has endured yet another difficult spring, yet life goes on. Young birds are venturing out, following their parents to the best feeding places. Some are bold, like the ducklings marching in line after their mother. Starlings chase their 
parents through the air, begging noisily. Wood 
pigeon chicks stomp after the adult birds like little penguins.

Others keep a lower profile. Although they are quite large, young blackbirds and thrushes keep to the shrubbery where they hop silently on long, strong legs.

If you come across a young bird, remember it’s not as helpless as it looks — its parent will be somewhere nearby, waiting for you to go away.

The last decade has been particularly bad for butterflies. Dismal springs and summers have so disrupted their breeding cycles that there are fewer butterflies and moths every year. Even the cabbage white is becoming a bit of a rarity.

In June, the species that come from overseas usually arrive. Hopefully we’ll see red admirals; the pretty silver Y moths that fly in daylight; and the painted lady butterflies that sometimes appear in huge numbers.

After a longer than usual hibernation, hedgehogs are back. They spend the day sleeping in a bed of leaves, venturing out at dusk in search of beetles, caterpillars and slugs.

A scuttling shadow, or snuffling and chomping from the middle of a bush, are often the only signs of their presence. But in the breeding season, hedgehogs can be notoriously noisy. So alarming are the unearthly sounds that householders have called the police to deal with the “intruder”.

These secretive nocturnal habits, and its unappetising diet, made the animal detested in the past. Hedgehogs were considered to be vermin and could even be the familiars of witches.

The very name is a slur — “hedge” was used in a derogatory way to describe events carried on in the open. A hedge-priest had no parish, so had to preach outdoors. A hedge-marriage took place in secret, without sanction of the church. A hedge-school was one where children were taught in the open. And the hedge-pig was the spiny fiend lurking in the hedge bottom.

Weather watching

June is usually the cue for Atlantic winds to roll in, loaded with rain clouds. It can be so wet that the period is known as the European Monsoon. Flaming June, indeed.

However, the old lore is optimistic. St Urban’s Day on May 25 was fine and sunny in our area, which is a good omen for our summer.

June has two traditional forecasting days, St Vitus on the 15th and St John on the 24th, which is midsummer. The first of these sounds like St Swithin:

If St Vitus Day be rainy weather,

It’ll rain for thirty days together.

Passing on swiftly, St John’s Day will predict the wind direction for the following three months, giving us an idea of the summer trend. If the weather gods should happen to be listening, a balmy southerly would do nicely.