Mixed summer for butterflies

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THIS is turning into an odd summer for butterflies. Some areas have seen large numbers, others hardly any.

But ringlets, meadow browns, large skippers, whites large and small and the odd red admiral are all out there, so keep looking.

The small tortoiseshells coming out now are making the most of purple thistles until the buddleia opens its flowers.

There seem to be more small tortoiseshells than last year, which is surprising given that the parents of these butterflies had to endure a freezing winter in hibernation.

There’s good news from the North Yorks Moors, where work to help a rare butterfly has paid off.

Pearl-bordered fritillaries disappeared from the moors site in 2002, leaving only two other places in Yorkshire where they were known.

But since volunteers have cleared scrub and bracken from the site, the dog violets that the caterpillars feed on have grown back.

Last month, adult pearl-bordered fritillaries were seen there enjoying the sunshine.

Swithin

July is usually a wet month and it’s probably raining right now. If it isn’t, it will be soon, because Friday is St Swithin’s Day.

There is a reason why a 9th-century Bishop of Winchester is able to predict rain or shine for weeks ahead. Around this time our weather settles into a pattern, thanks to the jet stream.

This is the wind that circles the globe several miles up, dividing Arctic air from sub-tropical air.

If the jet stream stays to the north of Britain, warm air can come up from the south. But if it moves south, cold air moves down behind it.

Whatever the jet stream is doing in mid-July, it tends to carry on doing it for the rest of the summer.

So the old verse contains more than a grain of truth. Note that it can also predict a fine spell:

St Swithin’s Day, if ye do rain,

For forty days it will remain;

St Swithin’s Day, if ye be fair,

For forty days ‘twil rain nae mair.

Seamer Fair

On St Swithin’s Day the village of Seamer, near Scarborough, proclaims its right to hold a fair.

While there’s no buying and selling these days, the fair’s charter is read and coins are scattered for local youngsters.

To understand how important the fair used to be, we have to look back to the 16th century. Seamer was a thriving market town and so successful that it threatened to take trade from Scarborough.

By then the week long fair was already old: Richard II had granted its charter to Henry de Percy, Earl of Northumberland, in 1383.

The King gave Percy the charter for putting down a rebellion in Scarborough, and it was a fine reward.

When a fair was underway, all trading and even the law came under the jurisdiction of the charter holder.

Henry de Percy could hold his own court to settle matters arising at Seamer Fair and most importantly, pocket all tolls, taxes and fines levied on the traders.

As different rules were in force during a fair, people had to be certain of when it opened and closed.

So to launch it there’d be a procession and a reading of the charter, which is the bit that survives today at Seamer.

During the 19th century many charter fairs disappeared, to be replaced by agricultural shows or pleasure fairs.

Seamer Fair survived, though its glory days were gone for good. Terminal decline set in during the 1930s and World War II added the final death knell for the buying and selling.