Nature Studies by Michael McCarthy: A celebration of the English apple

Why might one feel passionate about English apples, but not about English green beans? For if you examine the proposition, is it not the case that Cox's Orange Pippins excite enthusiasm in many people when even the juiciest and most flavoursome English runner bean is unlikely to do so, although they are both in essence the same thing, namely seed pods?

Nature Studies by Michael McCarthy: Welcome signs that winter's on its way

If we greet the bringers of spring with elation, should we greet the bringers of autumn with gloom? Logically, I suppose we should. But we don't seem to and I wonder why this is. Anyone close to the countryside knows the delight of hearing the first chiffchaff singing in March, having returned from the Mediterranean, and then the first willow warbler a little later; and even more, the pleasure of seeing the first swallow in April, just back from South Africa. The intensity of our welcome of these migrant birds is in large measure a seasonal one: they are signalling the great change in the calendar, the shift from warm to cold, from dark to light, and even more, the move in the natural world from death to rebirth. No wonder the first sound and sight of them make many hearts skip a beat.

Nature Studies by Michael McCarthy: Why are some alien invasions welcomed?

Stick insects are some of the world's most curious and recognisable creatures. They provoke fascination not only for their startling resemblance to sticks or leaves, a perfect piece of evolved camouflage, but also for the sheer anorexic skinniness of many of them; perhaps there is an ancient gene in us that triggers alarm at the sight of anything preternaturally thin.

Nature Studies by Michael McCarthy: The missing contribution to the great debate of our age

Anyone who saw the Hollywood movie Gladiator will remember its villain: the demented young Roman emperor Commodus, played by Joaquin Phoenix. The most vivid historical picture we have of Commodus is by Edward Gibbon in his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire; Gibbon hated him because he felt it was with Commodus that the Roman rot set in, after four emperors who had ruled wisely and well, the last being Commodus's own philosopher-father, Marcus Aurelius.

Nature Studies by Michael McCarthy: Rarity has a value all of its own

Why is rarity so prized? What deep psychological roots in us does it tap? It clearly has nothing to do with the inherent properties of a given object, as a tatty and overprinted postage stamp will have immense allure for stamp collectors, if very rare, whereas a clean and exceptionally beautiful stamp which has just been issued in its millions will carry no cachet.

Nature Studies by Michael McCarthy: It's time I embraced the word 'biodiversity'

What's your reaction to the word biodiversity? Do you know what it means? Legend has it that when John Prescott took up office as the Environment Secretary in the New Labour government of 1997, he thought it was a washing powder. But of course he soon learned, as all of us learn, that biodiversity is basically a portentous way of saying wildlife.

Nature Studies by Michael McCarthy: The sparrow that survived Mao's purge

Recently in The Independent we summarised the 10 years of our campaign to save the house sparrow, which has largely disappeared from central London for reasons which remain a mystery. In terms of sparrow stories, this vanishing act is hard to beat. Yet there is another sorrowful sparrow tale which is up there with it, in terms of drama, and which bears retelling.

Nature Studies by Michael McCarthy: The delights of the vibrant harebell

I first became aware of harebells when I was 18 and working as a volunteer warden at a nature reserve on Anglesey. It was August, and I hadn't appreciated that small, bell-like, sky-blue flowers nodding on the ends of their stalks appeared at the end of the summer; I thought such things appeared in the spring, and were called bluebells. I suspect the confusion between harebells and bluebells, superficially similar although not related, is quite widespread, and indeed, north of the border the harebell is sometimes called "the Scottish bluebell" as it is found in the Highlands, where the bluebell is largely absent (although the oakwoods of southern Argyll are bluebell-crammed in May). There is one reference to the harebell in Shakespeare, in Cymbeline, but in Jessica Kerr and Anne Ophelia Dowden's Shakespeare's Flowers of 1970, Ms Kerr suggests that your man was referring to the bluebell, and the bluebell is indeed the plant which Ms Dowden has illustrated.

Nature Studies by Michael McCarthy: The French have a way with butterflies

I have just spent a fortnight in a farmhouse in the Normandy countryside where the garden was full of butterflies. There are more butterfly species in France than in Britain – more than four times as many, something like 250 as compared with fewer than 60 here – and there also appear to be simply more individual insects, as the French countryside seems not to have suffered quite the battering inflicted on the natural world in Britain by intensive farming. The roadside verges were overflowing with splendid wild flowers, agrimony, betony, yellow toadflax and even glowing blue cornflowers, which in Britain are virtually extinct; there were red squirrels, roe deer and green woodpeckers in the wood across the road and hares in the fields, and my wife saw la fouine, the beech marten, run through the garden.

Nature Studies by Michael McCarthy: Big ambitions for Britain's small ponds

Sometimes it dawns on you why you love your country, and I had one of those moments the other day in contemplating the fact that Britain has a full-time organisation devoted to the welfare of ponds. I may be wrong, but I simply cannot imagine that France or Germany or Italy, still less Albania, Paraguay or Ghana, has a charitable body, employing a full-time staff, which focuses entirely on the health of small bodies of standing water.

Nature Studies by Michael McCarthy: The dazzling wings that define summer

What is the supreme marker of high summer? What sensations most come to mind of hot, lazy days? Do you see a yellow beach, a blue pool, or hear the shouts of children splashing? Do you hear the purr of an evening lawnmower? Do you taste rosé wine, chill and savoury in its glass? Do you smell a barbecue aroma wafting across from a neighbouring garden?

Nature Studies by Michael McCarthy: Should wildlife art look like photography?

It's easy to forget, when we think about art, that the first subjects for painting were animals: stags, wild horses, wild bulls and other creatures delineated in charcoal and ochre on the walls of caves such as Lascaux in southern France, or Altamira in northern Spain. What, we wonder, looking at these arresting images painted by flickering torchlight 17,000 years ago, was in the minds of the painters? Some sort of awe, or some sort of reverence for the great beasts, undoubtedly.

Nature Studies by Michael McCarthy: Such intoxicating displays of mimicry

Very occasionally a book comes along which enables you to see the world in a different way, and I have just discovered one. The title is Butterflies: Messages from Psyche and the author is Philip Howse, a retired Professor of Entomology at the University of Southampton. Published six weeks ago, the book is large-format, and since it is profusely illustrated with splendid photographs of butterflies and moths, many of them magnificent tropical species in bravura colours, your first thought is: coffee table. Yet something radical is going on in these pages which marks this volume out as one to be read rather than left lying around in your sitting room.

Nature Studies by Michael McCarthy: The rosy charms of the red helleborine

Excitement is an emotion supremely prized by our society, a sensation infinitely in demand, certainly if we judge by the unending stream of blow-'em-up action movies pouring out of Hollywood, or moving closer to home, by the recent jamborees that were the Glastonbury festival and the World Cup. War films, rock music, sport: these seem to be legitimate exciters of our age. Any of them can leave you with an elevated heart rate and no one will think you peculiar for mentioning it. But what about being excited – being very excited – by a flower? Does that mean you're as normal as a Glastonburygoer or a football fan? Or are you just a teeny bit on the idiosyncratic side?

Nature Studies by Michael McCarthy: Small species: spare parts that matter

An American botanist once suggested to me that I should think of the living plant and animal species of the earth as the parts of a dismantled Boeing 747, laid out on the ground. If 10 per cent of those parts were removed, he said, would you still be happy to fly in the Jumbo Jet, if the plane were put back together without them? Hardly, I said. So by analogy, he said, would you think you were safe on planet Earth with 10 per cent of its parts missing?

News
people And here is why...
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
tv
Voices
voicesBy the man who has
Sport
Arsene Wenger tried to sign Eden Hazard
footballAfter 18 years with Arsenal, here are 18 things he has still never done as the Gunners' manager
Life and Style
The new Windows 10 Start Menu
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson star in The Twilight Saga but will not be starring in the new Facebook mini-movies
tvKristen Stewart and Stephenie Meyer will choose female directrs
Arts and Entertainment
Hilary North's 'How My Life Has Changed', 2001
books(and not a Buzzfeed article in sight)
News
William Hague
people... when he called Hague the county's greatest
News
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete today
Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey
comedyFirst national survey reveals Britain’s comedic tastes
Arts and Entertainment
Twerking girls: Miley Cyrus's video for 'Wrecking Ball'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Sheeran performs at his Amazon Front Row event on Tuesday 30 September
musicHe spotted PM at private gig
News
people'I’d rather have Fred and Rose West quote my characters on childcare'
News
Kim Jong Un gives field guidance during his inspection of the Korean People's Army (KPA) Naval Unit 167
newsSouth Korean reports suggest rumours of a coup were unfounded
Arts and Entertainment
Mystery man: Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike in '‘Gone Girl'
films... by the director David Fincher
Life and Style
stoptober... when the patch, gum and cold turkey had all failed
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer, Lord Alan Sugar, Karren Brady are returning for The Apprentice series 10
tv
Travel
Bruce Chatwin's novel 'On the Black Hill' was set at The Vision Farm
travelOne of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
Life and Style
stoptober
News
i100
The Independent
 
The Independent on Google+
i100
i100 on Google+
i Newspaper
 
TheIPaper
The Independent around the web
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

General Cover Teacher

£120 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Luton: Currently looking for teachers ...

SEN Teaching Assistant Runcorn

£50 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN Teaching Assistant EBD , Septemb...

QA/BA - Agile

£400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client are currently seekin...

PPA Supply Teachers

£121 - £142 per day: Randstad Education Luton: Early Years, KS1 & 2 Prima...

Day In a Page

Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?