May is a generous month. Giver her the slightest opening and she opens like a single magnificent bloom, vibrant, rich and sweet-smelling. It’s a time of year that plays havoc with a naturalist’s schedule, for we can’t walk for as much as a minute without being waylaid by something wonderful. Last week the 10-minute tramp to my old haunts – through the Wilderness, down Beech Lane and round Maiden Erlegh Lake – took closer to half an hour, seconds turning to minutes whilst I stopped to admire the abstract splashes of various spring flowers unfolding in every rough patch, moving in closer to inspect flower heads for the presence of beetles.
This morning I set out to hear nightingales. And I did, two of them – one distant, the other ear-splittingly loud from somewhere unseen in a patch of dense scrub. Whilst I listened, I sat in the long grass and noted down a few other observations. Bee flies, holly blue, red-headed cardinal beetle, banded demoiselle. Orange-tip, peacock, blue-tailed damselfly, red-and-black froghopper, the last leaping away from my fingertip with a click. Around me, a spectacular dock-beetle city. Flashes of emerald-bronze reflected from their rounded wing-cases as they trundled about seeking mates, the females hugely gravid. I inadvertently brushed a few of their eggs off the back of a leaf with my finger, soft orange capsules like elongated jelly beans.
It was much like our visit to a beer festival earlier in the weekend. The atmosphere was relaxed, but time at the bar lay inevitably before me. I had to drink it all in whilst I could. I ambled further, noticing happily that the team at Dinton Pastures had only trimmed the very edges of the paths and allowed broad strips of verdant wild ‘weeds’ to grow free. As it should be, for this is the truth of what we call biodiversity: Darwin’s tangled bank and its attending endless forms are right here at our feet. They’re on the road verges and waysides, in the cracks in the pavement, in the scuffed and unloved places and the quiet and untrodden corners. The gloriously untidy and the richly alive.