Saturday, 25 July 2015

Dust to Dust, Ashes to Ashes: Big Butterfly Count 2015

Common blue butterfly (Jo Sinclair)
David Attenborough encouraged me from the very start (doesn't he always?). The charity Butterfly Conservation tweeted all day everyday, but I read Michael McCarthay's article reminding me yet again about the staggering decline of species in my lifetime and found myself a little bit scared to go out and count local butterflies. What's the point, I wondered. Would there even be any? But the Big Butterfly Count is not a trophy hunt. It's not about showing off a triumphant list of rare species. The 25,000 contributors who have already submitted their results provide useful 'citizen science' data. Perhaps the best contribution I could make might in fact be to report that on a fine summer afternoon with a moderate breeze all I noted was one or two tatty cabbage whites?

Three books on butterflies this year reviewed in The Guardian by Patrick Barkham inspire the combination of gloom and wonder that anyone with an interest in natural history knows all to well.
I pulled myself together and waited for the right conditions between torrential rain, unseasonal high winds and grey cloud. My perfect day dawned fine, hot, sunny and gentle. I saw peacocks, red admirals, meadow browns, brimstones, common blues, large whites, a brown argus and a small copper among thistles, teasels and ragwort in the meadow I walk through every day.

You can do a count for the Big Butterfly Count until the 9th august and you've got until the end of the month to log the results.

Big Butterfly Count 2015: Butterfly Conservation's downloadable guide

Meadow browns on ragwort (lower black dots on the 3rd from left are a variable feature). image Jo Sinclair

Large white butterfly on teasel by Jo Sinclair

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Rewilding Takes Flight

Hans Hoffman wild boar piglet illustration

The conservation charity Rewilding Britain launched last week. In the emotive brouhaha I fleetingly imagined savage animals let loose to take revenge on us. With one swipe of fangs or claws they'd get us back. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth for the systemic extinctions we leave in our wake. Then I remembered this famous You Tube sensation. (PLAY)

Narrating the story of 'trophic cascade' George Monbiot tells us what happens when a keystone species is given the chance to fit comfortably into a new habitat, creating a rapid positive effect on the whole ecosystem. Springwatch told the same tale this year, this time with English beavers.

Rewilding Britain gives some UK examples on the website, and a blog entry by Martin Harper talks about conservation in action at the RSPB. Even in intensively farmed East Anglia there are success stories, such as Lakenheath RSPB's cranes. In 2007 these birds returned and bred successfully (the first time in England in four hundred years). The Great Crane Project website points out that these are wild birds, discerning individuals who chose a good spot where the RSPB are able to provide extra protection. They are not part of a reintroduction project.

Next week I'll be far away from my East Anglian flatlands. I'll be in South Wales and near the Forest of Dean. One of these days in their garden my relatives might find wild boar rootling, an adder basking or a goshawk flashing through with outstretched talons. And might there be a lynx or a wolf in my niece and nephew's lifetime? Time will tell.

Meanwhile following the first conclusive sighting of a pine marten in England in over 100 years Shropshire lad Paul Evans referred us to his interesting article about ‘the weasley outlaw in the shadows’. Amateur wildlife recorder Dave Pearce took two photographs in a wood in Shropshire last week and Evan’s interesting article points out that the animals thought to be extinct from England may have been present all along. But Cambridge? Really? We have so few trees. There’s a Cambridge near Stroud in Gloucestershire too isn’t there? That would make more sense. But Northampton is mentioned too. Keep your eyes peeled (and that includes roadkill)...