30 OCTOBER 1936, Page 17


A Coastal Threat

One of the best, one of the most characteristic bits of coast in Southern England is in double danger. It may be denied to the public, it may be made ugly. In my own vision of Western Britain, Hartland, Morte Point and St. David's Head stand out pre-eminently. Of these Morte Point is in the hands of the National Trust, and the nation should be eternally grateful to the generous giver. The walk round this rugged headland is enjoyed by thousands and still keeps its wild splendour and still the buzzards nest there. Of the thousands who bless the gift a very large number gain access by a path above the cliff across a field of short turf that differs little from the property of the National Trust. This field and this pathway are not unlikely to be given over to " development " unless immediate steps are taken. It is not only that the scenic charm would be destroyed. What is worse, in my view much worse, is that the public might be forbidden the coast. The shutting off of a coastal walk is what Plato—and Bunyan—called a sin in the soul. The gift of Morte Point would lose a good part of its value if this path of access were cut off. There would, I am convinced, be no difficulty in raising the necessary money.

Preservers' Duties

Residents have been aware of the danger for a good many months ; but, in the way of a good many other people in other parts; they have taken no steps whatever to defend themselves. This very autumn the Council for the Preserva- tion of Rural England held their minuet meeting in Devon and made the preservation of the coast the subject of the occasion. In spite of this not a word was said of this known threat to the finest stretch of coast in Devon itself. England can only be preserved by the agency of local watchdogs ; and if the dogs refuse to bark when attack is imminent there is little hope of salvation. The National Trust (in Buckingham Palace Gardens) and the C.P.R.E. (in Hobart Place) are very active, very beneficent bodies, sharing between them the work of preserving England. The National Trust holds land and houses. The C.P.R.E. has pooled the influence of a score and more of societies ; and both maintain a vigorous propaganda and supply expert information to the central government as well as to local bodies. If these two bodies, or even one of them, knows of a real danger, we may be sure that active steps will be taken without delay to find means of defence. It is high time that better sinews of war were developed in the National Trust by a national grant ; and that will doubtless come ; but even as things are, the Trust has the power to raise money altogether beyond its own resources, thanks to the skill and energy of its chief organisers.

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A Bunting Christmas Card This year's Christmas card of the Norfolk Naturalists' Trust (in which very many readers of The Spectator have shown particu- lar interest) is more than usually suitable for Christmas. The bird that has sat for its portrait is one of the most vivid of our winter visitors, the snow-bunting. Two of them are painted standing on a carpet of snow on Scolt Head, which is perhaps the most characteristic sanctuary in the world—for birds and indeed for plants. Some years ago a singularly quiet and peaceful Broad was bought for the Trust largely by help of the proceeds of a Christmas card. The sales of this year's card are to provide funds for the house of a watcher on neighbouring marshes. Not so long ago, staying in an hotel thereabouts, I found among my fellow-guests a man or two who had come confessedly for the purpose of collecting the skins of rare birds ; and such collectors are not the worst enemies of the rarer birds that visit and would like to visit this succession of, sanctuaries. Protection depends very largely on the provision of watchers who dwell on the spot. One ardent naturalist stays for long periods on the marshes for the express purpose of watching mortal enemies as well as birds ; but the work cannot be done wholly by volunteers. The watcher's house is to be a pebble cottage with red pantile roof. The site is on ground belonging to the Trust and commands a view of pretty well the whole marsh. All bird lovers will hope that the snow-bunting, like its pre-

decessors. the erossbill, goldfinch, bearded tit and the rest, will sell in thousands, for Mr. Harrison has a genius for bird portraiture ; the card is worth preservation. It is sold at 414. or 4s. 6d. a dozen inclusive of suitable envelopes and postage. They may be had from the honorary secretary of the Trust, Sydney Long, N1.1)., Surrey Street, Norwich.

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Winter Visitors

It is a curious incident that the snow-bunting, as if in recog- nition of the compliment, has arrived this year several weeks earlier than its wont ; and it is not the only instance of early migration. I have never seen field-fares—most characteristic of winter migrants—so early as this year, and there was nothing in the weather to account for their premature arrival. Have they a sense of severity to come ? Countryfolk believe that they have. The reason for the preference of many .small birds for this part of Norfolk, in spite of its unprotected bleakness, is not obscure. There are some snug scoops and in these, as well as on the more highly exposed spots, grow masses of Suaeda and other likely plants of the Settings. The flocks of linnets and other seed-eating birds are immense.

Botanically as well as geographically the place is ideal for a sanctuary, and it includes the Cley and other marshes, as well as the more famous Scolt Head.

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Butterfly Circulation . It is a tribute to the growing zeal for natural history that South Kensington has recently published a little, more or less technical,pamphlet which has proved, may I say ? a best seller. Its sale went into four figures, I believe, very soon after publication. Its subject was the migrant butterfly ; and it contains beautifully-coloured pictures of most of these migrants : Hawk moths, Red Admirals, Painted Ladies and the rest. The study of the movements of moths and butter- flies is more or less new ; and some almost startling discoveries have been made. More and more does it appear that these insects migrate almost as birds migrate, to and fm across the seas and with purpose. What is chiefly wanted by the research workers is the co-operation of thousands of pairs of eyes : hence this engaging, popular pamphlet. If people would send particular information to South Kensington or to Dr. Williams at Rothamsted, Harpenden, Hertfordshire, they might help the discoveries in this branch of science. The crowning marvel of course of insect migration is the repeated arrival on the West Coast of Monarch or milkweed butterflies from America ! Did they fly the Atlantic ? I was interested last winter to watch the rare powers of flight of this fine butterfly on estancias in the Argentine Republic. Since it travels immense distances even in adverse winds in America it might conceivably double the distance with the aid of .westerly gales.

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Beetle Researches How quickly our research workers discover a life history if there is a demand for the information ! When there was a demand—from New Zealand—for a parasite on the earwig, two were discovered within three months and presently bred for export. I do not know whether the heather beetle suffers from any parasite, but time most important fact in its life history has been penetratel : it lays eggs, it scents, in June on sphagnum moss, and such bits of knowledge may lead to its repression. The suddenness and extent of its ravages may be inferred from a telegram recently r.?ceived by a sportsman, due to shoot on a West of Scotland moor, It ran : " No good coming. We arc all going home. Moor burnt." The burning of the whole moor means abandon- ment for three years, and even then there is no certainty that this pernicious beetle will not return. Some entomologists hope that it will vanish almost as quickly as it came. The beetle is an import and such foreigners in England as a rule meet a sudden bout of weather that is too much for them. We are saved in a thousand instances from insect and botanical plagues by the surprises of our climate : " the third day comes a frost, a killing frost," just when the plant or creature seems to have found its optimum of conditions.