This column often highlights the issues and politics of nature conservation. Important as working for the protection and funding of nature is we must also remember to enjoy our wildlife, open spaces and countryside. High summer is one of the best times of the year to do so. Nature provides an abundance of delight and entertainment for us, whether on holiday or at home.
Insects are at their most prominent, from flying ants to jewel-like beetles. Anywhere close to water will be alive with dragonflies and damselflies. This brightly coloured, harmless, group has been doing well in recent years, with an increase both in numbers and species migrating and breeding here. From emperor and brown hawker dragonflies to delicate darters and dainty damsels they will enliven your walks and picnics. One old name for these sometimes fearsome looking insects is 'devil's darning needles'.
Butterflies too will be on the wing, visiting flowers in gardens, waysides and meadows. They will be looking for nectar from the now widespread buddleia as well as purple knapweeds, thistles, and scabious, and the yellow dandelion-like flowers of cat's-ears, hawkweeds and hawkbits. Look out too for black and yellow striped hoverflies visiting the same flowers. Often mistaken for wasps and bees (and there will be plenty of those about as well) hoverflies have only one pair of wings and their heads are 'all eyes' so to speak. Lovely to watch and the bonus is that their larvae eat aphids.
The bird world has to get ready for the busy autumn just ahead. Bedraggled parent birds will be feeding their second or even third broods, often helped by their now fully fledged first brood. For species such as martins and swallows this is a critical time as they need to be fit for their long flights to Africa and elsewhere. By the middle of the month swifts will already be leaving us, their screaming sorties silenced for another year.
Mimicking the birds, bats will also be very busy, with many youngsters on the wing. Like martins and swallows they are aerial insect hunters. They need to feed up not for migration but for hibernation - if you live on insects you have to do one or the other to survive. Their cousins the hedgehogs are similarly occupied. Those playful fox cubs which have been entertaining us since late winter are now getting on with the serious business of life as they learn to fend for themselves.
Finally, if you are having a picnic or a barbecue, raise a glass to my friends at the Heritage Lottery Fund and the RSPB. The former has just granted the latter £600,000 to redevelop facilities at their wonderful Sandwell Valley Reserve, following an arson attack three years ago. Come to think of it you can see a lot of the wildlife mentioned above at that Reserve. Enjoy.