this is a picture of a hawthorn shield bug. It reminds me of one of my best days of blackberry picking in what is now Hastings Country Park. I was in the midst of some well endowed bushes, concentrating on picking berries at a furious pace, but couldn't help but be somewhat distracted by a constant loud, short-lived buzzing noise. I did not have a clue what was making this sound until I eventually saw a shield bug land on a leaf and I realised it was this beautifully marked insect that was making the noise, presumably when hopping from leaf to leaf. Its armour is like that of a beetle, very tough, and I was determined to find out what it was when I got home. I managed to find a reference to it in my Observer's book of insects ( these days the internet probably affords a quicker and easier means of identification ) . It is this close connection with nature, and its great ecological diversity that makes something as basic as blackberry picking so fascinating.
Who says blackberry picking is boring ? I was once picking by a railway line ( often an excellent area for brambles - but not without its element of danger ! And i'm not talking about the trains , nor the electrified rails ! ) The embankments , cuttings etc are usually an undisturbed haven for wildlife. This time , the wildlife I encountered was far from what I anticipated. I gradually became aware of an ever increasing number of wasps buzzing around my vicinity. I eventually spotted the reason why , I was treading on or very close to a wasps' nest. I am surprised that i managed to calmly walk away without a single sting. These insects normally have a reputation of being aggressive, irksome creatures ( and I have actually been stung by a wasp - but never whilst fruit picking ) . Even more so , when defending their nest , one would expect wasps to do this instinctively. Since this near miss, I have learned to be more tolerant of wasps , as they reportedly eat a lot of garden pests. Though I still find it hard to endure their constant hovering around picnic food . Anything sweet and sugary , and they are experts at homing in and spoiling a nice idyllic countryside spot.
Cast your mind back to the long hot summer of 1976 probably my best ever harvest of blackberries . I was literally filling buckets to the brim with berries. The area of brambles to the east of Ecclesbourne Glen in Hastings Country Park was the most prolific I have known. I was on a cumulative weight of about 96 lb when the summer holiday ended and failed to get the opportunity to reach the magic 100 lbs total. All of those bushes are now in the sea due to the rapid erosion and constant landslips of the cliffs.
The Firehills ( also in Hastings Country Park ) are still a good source of blackberries but I also scour areas in the suburbs of St. Leonards, and these days try to include the children in the fun. I hope I will eventually be able to instil my predatory skills in them , but like all children , one can only encourage them , not try to coerce them into any particular activity.