As someone who regularly scours the pages of The Argus looking for events I can attend without actually spending any money, I happened to know that Benfield Wildlife and Conservation Group were holding a free ‘Glow-Worm Walk’ on Benfield Local Nature Reserve last Saturday night. It's not every day you get to run about late at night on a hill in Hove, looking for things that glow in the dark, so naturally I went along, dragging my girlfriend behind me.
The starting point was the Hangleton Manor pub, where I think my girlfriend would have been happy to stay for the evening, but having rendezvoused with the other twenty or so bug-spotters who turned up, I tried to maintain her interest levels by bombarding the treasurer of the BWCG, Dave Bell, with fascinating questions about creepy-crawlies (which is the proper technical term for glow-worms). I hadn't realised just how privileged we were - apparently the life-cycle of a glow-worm is two years, during which time they only glow green for... wait for it... about 8 days. After which they die. But hey, at least they get a week in the limelight (literally) before they go.
The answer to the question 'why does a glow-worm glow?' is not the obvious ‘because they eat light meals’, it’s actually to attract a mate. It's only the females who light up (the males have got better things to do), so Benfield Hill is a lot like the Tru Nightclub on a Saturday night - packed full of females trying to impress the opposite sex by shining on the dance floor.
Apparently glow-worms (which are not even worms, but beetles) are only really found in chalky grassland, which accounts for less than 3% of the South Downs, so combining that with the news about their life-cycle, and the fact that it still wasn't dark at 10pm, my hopes of seeing any weren't high. Especially when BWCG chairman Martin Robinson turned up and told us that on the last count on June 2nd, they'd only found six.
But we set off anyway, hiking through the rich wildlife habitat of... um... Benfield Valley Golf Course, before crossing the A27 via the footbridge and arriving in an altogether different setting: West Hove Golf Course. I was a bit confused as to which area constituted nature reserve, and which was merely the 9th hole putting green, but we followed our guides in good faith, and our faith was duly rewarded.
The interesting thing about glow-worm hunting is that when you first spot one, you feel like you've witnessed a once-in-a-lifetime miracle of nature which could well be the highlight (no pun intended) of your life, whereas ninety minutes later you're so blasé you barely bother pointing them out. Which is a shame, because it's a truly spectacular sight. Having spotted the odd one or two within minutes of arrival, we ventured further into the reserve, and soon found them everywhere. Well over a hundred were dotted about in the grass, making it look like someone had decorated the hill with fairy lights. I've never seen anything like it. But then I don't get out much.
As it turned out, glow-worm numbers were so high that night that the little critters had even ventured out of the rough, into the bunkers and onto the greens. I spotted one only four feet from the pin. If I'd had a putter, I could have knocked it in and reduced my handicap.
In the end we stayed up there for an hour and a half, just gazing at the beautiful sights (and lights) of nature. It was like a magical Wonderland, with my girlfriend doing her best to play Alice by falling down numerous rabbit holes. By the time we left, more glow-worms had emerged onto the banks either side of the footpath, making it feel like we were walking down the landing strip at Gatwick. Apparently the beetles are only shining in earnest until late July (the Christmas lights in Churchill Square last longer), but take it from me, it's a sight well worth checking out. That's what I like to call a glowing recommendation.