Michael McCarthy: A special hat-trick on a special island

Nature Notebook: The countryside is as unspoiled as Dorset must have been 30 years ago

Share
Related Topics

Funny how you can live all your life without going somewhere fairly significant which is quite close. I am old enough to remember the Isle of Wight festivals, not the least the amazing 1970 one which featured Jimi Hendrix, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez and Leonard Cohen, but I am ashamed to say I only read about them, and until last week I had never set foot on the Isle of Wight.

It was with a certain heightened sense of anticipation, therefore, that I crossed the Solent on the high-speed ferry from Southampton and stepped ashore in Cowes. I was on the island to pursue the Glanville fritillary, below, the island's special butterfly which is found nowhere else in Britain, as part of our Great British Butterfly Hunt, and I found it, but I ended up finding a lot more than that.

For a start I discovered a place whose beauty, especially in its western side, away from the holiday beaches of Shanklin and Sandown, took me aback: the countryside is lush, green and as unspoiled as Dorset must have been 30 years ago. The short-cropped downland in particular is exquisite: I stood on Bonchurch Down above Ventnor and watched Adonis blue butterflies flutter about my feet, their wings of an electric blue so brilliant that they outshone the sunlit sea 500 feet below.

With the guidance of Robin Curtis, the Glanville fritillary expert, I saw 14 different butterfly species, including four that were completely new to me (the Glanville, the green hairstreak, the small blue and the large skipper), with a significant bonus. For the island doesn't only have its own special insect, it has its own special mammal, the red squirrel, now virtually gone from southern England, and its own special reptile, the wall lizard, found in Britain only here.

We saw the red squirrel in a nature reserve in Newtown, and the wall lizard, a conspicuous bright green, basking lazily on the wall of a Ventnor car park. Three out of three – or as my football-loving 12-year-old son has taken to saying – back of the net! (The exclamation mark is unfortunately obligatory).

A Victorian timewarp

I was also fascinated by the preponderance of Victorian architecture – Wight seems to be a Victorian island as much as Cardiff is a Victorian city (notably, Osborne House). Apart from trendy Cowes, which has some Art Deco and some post-modernist stuff, the only major architectural development since Victoria's day seems to be the bungalow, which is thick on the ground. It all adds to the feeling of being in a timewarp once the Solent is crossed, of being in an earlier, calmer England – the England of the red squirrel, perhaps.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Web Analyst – Permanent – West Sussex – Up to £43k

£35000 - £43000 Per Annum plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

Principal Arboricultural Consultant

£35000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Principal Arboricu...

Trainee Digital Forensic Analyst

£17000 - £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Trainee Digital Fo...

Legal Recruitment Consultant

Highly Competitive Salary + Commission: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL BASED - DEALING ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

What's the most meaningful response we could have to the murder of James Foley?

Archie Bland
The back page of today's i  

i Editor's Letter: Your response to our new back page of sports

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment