NATURE NOTES - Dragons, damsels and desert dust

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WILL this rain ever end? Not according to the forecast all this week is going to be WET! Then to top it all the rain that fell a few days ago made my car look like it had just competed in the Dakar Rally crossing the Sahara.

Well to be honest it was ‘dust’ from the Sahara that covered my car.

I awoke to find my car covered in a coating of grimy orange dust in blotches, demonstrating that it had been deposited by drops of rain. It is thought the phenomenon is due to a huge sandstorm in the Sahara last week that carried grit into the upper atmosphere.

The phenomenon is known to occur occasionally - the last known previous reports being in the Midlands in 2003 - but the current incident was being described as “a significant event”.

The Met Office confirmed that it had received reports of the dirty rain phenomenon and said staff were compiling a report about the extent of the dust deposits. A spokesperson from the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton said: “Saharan sand is red or a dirty colour because it contains a lot of iron which is a micronutrient.

“When dust storms like the one that has covered areas of Britain happen they really benefit growth in the waters off the coast by giving rise to plankton blooms.

“The sand acts like fertiliser on the ocean and allows fish and other sea creatures in the northern hemisphere to feed and reproduce.

“Further out to sea can be like a desert for sea life because they don’t have the iron micro-nutrient - so in terms of helping sustain ocean life the sand storm is great.”

The amount of rain has had an impact on some of our wildlife though.

Last year we also had a pretty miserable summer which affected most of our butterflies not like 2009 which was the best year I can remember for Painted Lady butterflies with literally millions of them arriving into the country – this year I have not seen a single one yet.

In fact butterflies have been few and far between and I’ve only seen the more usual species and then only in the brief interludes between the rainstorms.

Dragonflies and Damselflies like you would expect to have fared much better and I watched the hunting tactics of a broad bodied chaser at Three Sisters Wetland last week and was mightily impressed with its flying skills. One good thing (or bad depending if you have wings or not) is that all this wet humid weather has meant absolutely loads of insects for all the young birds that have recently fledged and flown the nest. This bountiful harvest should give them a good start and help with the oncoming winter – which according to the long term forecast is likely to be another really cold one!

As you would expect some of the insects that have done very well in this weather are the ones that we all hate/fear/loathe! The bloodsucking critters that wait for us to enter their world. Walk into any bit of countryside and you’ll soon be swatting the blood thieves away. The ones I hate the most are Clegs.

Clegs do what their scientific name suggests ‘Haematopota pluvialis’ drink blood – definitely the Vampires of the insect world.