Vanishing Wildlife In France

Swallowtail butterfly on buddleia. Image: Nigel Rustin.

Swallowtail butterfly on buddleia. Image: Nigel Rustin.

But this year we were concerned to notice that some of the insects we are used to seeing were scarce.  In particular there is a little beetle that was totally absent, Pyrrhocoris apterus (photo below).

Humans don’t always find beetles attractive. (That may have changed as far as children are concerned since MG.Leonard published Beetle Boy!)  But they have always had a soft spot for ladybirds. So I think we can assume that it is the red, spotted wings of a ladybird that make them appealing to us.

Like the ladybird,  pyrrhocoris apterus is red and the colour endears them to the French who affectionately call it gendarme (policeman).  To my knowledge French policemen don’t, in fact, wear red uniforms but, like the English, blue and, again like the English, they are a vanishing species on the streets.   

Sadly the resemblance to policemen is not only in the name for this year we did not see a single gendarme.

The gendarme .   Source

The gendarme. Source

French wall lizard.  Source

French wall lizard. Source

People often ask me what I do when we spend time in France.  I answer vaguely but accurately that time seems to disappear very quickly … But one great pleasure there has always been the abundance of wildlife.

The 10 acre field which came with our barn is visited by red squirrels, roe deer, wild boar, hedgehogs, moles and the occasional hare. Most of the field we lend to the local farmer to grow some of the hay which he feeds to his cows in winter so that they continue to produce organic milk.

But there is a sort of wild garden around the house. No prizes for guessing it is planted with all sorts of bee friendly flowers - in particular lavender and gaura.  It is a particular joy to read a book near a bank of lavender while enjoying the company of the visiting insects.

Dragonfly. Image: Nigel Rustin.

Dragonfly. Image: Nigel Rustin.

They are not usually difficult to find because they seem to be very sociable insects. They spend most of their time in large huddles or marching up and down the door frames of our house. They were so easy to spot and so ever present that we never thought to take a photo of them in their colourful formations. But this year there were none to be seen.

We know of no explanation and are just hoping that maybe they will return next year.  But we have never before known a year without them.

And the tiny and very engaging lizards who are usually scampering over the wall of our house and disappearing into crevices were very scarce this year.

Alarmed by what seemed to be more examples of vanishing wildlife, we started taking photos of the insects we have always enjoyed seeing in our garden. The results appear on the website.  All of the insects you will see here are visitors to Monsac - at least for the moment.

Cicada Grasshopper. Image: Nigel Rustin.

Cicada Grasshopper. Image: Nigel Rustin.

Barbara Rustin