PUBLISHED: 10:35 10 July 2009 | UPDATED: 15:23 20 February 2013
Although you can still see clouds of butterflies in some parts of Shropshire, generally, moth and butterfly numbers are declining. Nationally, 18 butterflies and more than 70 moths were added to the nationally threatened list last year. Fortunatel...
Although you can still see clouds of butterflies in some parts of Shropshire, generally, moth and butterfly numbers are declining. Nationally, 18 butterflies and more than 70 moths were added to the nationally threatened list last year. Fortunately, action is being taken - by Butterfly Conservation, a national charity whose aim is simply the conservation of butterflies, moths and their habitats.
Dr Jenny Joy, the Senior Regional Officer for the West Midlands, describes its work
The Butterfly Conservation society has recently developed major programmes to save threatened butterflies and moths (such as the Large Blue), we have established the world's largest butterfly recording scheme (the Butterfly Monitoring Scheme), we have persuaded the UK government to accept butterflies and moths as biodiversity indicators (reflecting change in the environment and climate) and we have been pivotal in the establishment of Butterfly Conservation Europe (a European body which has been set up to ensure conservation on a continent-wide basis).
Butterfly Conservation has a network of several thousand volunteers, co-ordinated by a group of branches and by staff who run over 500 events every year to take action on key sites and introduce people to the wonders of butterflies and moths.
The West Midlands Branch of Butterfly Conservation co-ordinates activities which include events, targeted surveys for butterflies and moths and liaison with partnership organisations (such as Wildlife Trusts, Local, District and County Councils and the Forestry Commission).
However, as the West Midlands region covers such as wide area, local county groups of Butterfly Conservation have recently been emerging. In Shropshire, the inaugural group meeting was held at the Field Studies Council centre at Preston Montford in November 2006. The members of this group range from youngsters to senior citizens and encompass very different jobs and professions.
Shropshire is particularly rich in butterflies in relation to the West Midlands as a whole and we still have good numbers of nationally declining butterflies which are now rare in other areas. For example, the Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary is frequently seen in rush pasture habitats in the south of the county, the Grayling is locally common on mine spoil and rocky outcrops in the Stiperstones and Long Mynd areas, the Wood White is present along ride-side habitats in south Shropshire woodlands and the Large Heath breeds on cotton-grass on Wem and Whixall Mosses.
Butterfly Conservation now also has its own nature reserve in Shropshire at Prees Heath Common where we have a full time warden, Stephen Lewis, carrying out a major heathland restoration programme to benefit the Silver-studded Blue butterfly. The Silver-studded Blue is a particularly interesting butterfly as it is closely associated with ants at all stages of its life cycle. Its eggs are laid close to ants' nests, the caterpillars live in ants' nests (and pupate in there too) and adult butterflies are covered in ants when they first emerge.
The caterpillars and adults feed the ants with sugary secretions and in return, the ants protect them from parasites and predators. The colony - frequently hundreds can be seen - is an amazing sight. In a good year, butterflies are so abundant it is how you imagine the whole country was in the past. Prees Heath Common is the only such site remaining in the Midlands area so it is vitally important for Butterfly Conservation to try to preserve it by restoring it back to heathland.
So, what does the Shropshire Group of Butterfly Conservation need to do for these butterflies and moths? First and foremost, we need people to record them to make sure they are still present in reasonable numbers. Sudden reductions in numbers can tell us that the site is no longer in good condition or that the management regime is no longer suitable. Secondly, we need to raise awareness of the importance of these butterflies and moths and what good biodiversity indicators they are. Frequently, the sites supporting good numbers of butterflies and moths are also good for a variety of other plants and animals. Sometimes, all that is needed to drastically improve numbers are simple changes to management regimes. For example, changing grass-mowing regimes from every year to one year in three, carrying out periodic scrub control or ground disturbance or by simply leaving some areas uncut. All too often, people are simply not aware of the stunning butterflies on their doorstep. I only have to show the Green Hairstreak butterfly to a group of Telford children and they are amazed. Ironically, most of these children have a colony quite close to where they live but have never seen one before - one of the unknown aspects of Telford!
If you are interested in joining the group and/or would like to receive mailings about Shropshire Butterfly Group activities or our activities at Prees Heath Common, contact me on 01952 249325, email: firstname.lastname@example.org or Stephen Lewis on 01743 340721, email: email@example.com.
If you want to know more about the West Midlands Branch of Butterfly Conservation which holds events over a larger area look at the branch website: www.westmidlandsbutterflyconservation.org.uk
Butterfly and moth facts
• More than 2,500 varieties of butterfly and moth have been recorded in the UK.
• Butterflies do not see flowers as we do, for their eyes are not very sensitive to red and yellow light. They see ultraviolet light (which we don't) so they see dandelions as blue.
• Butterflies have an incredibly sensitive sense of smell. Their antennae allow them to pick up the scent of a single flower from some distance away.
• The Small Blue is the smallest butterfly in Britain with a wingspan of 18-27mm. The tiny pigmy blue butterfly of North America is even smaller with a wingspan of 11-18mm.
• Some butterflies migrate like birds by flying huge distances, e.g. Monarchs fly from North America to over-winter in Mexico.
• The Painted Lady butterflies you sometimes see in your garden may have flown here from North Africa or Arabia.
• The Peacock butterfly uses its large fake 'eyes' on its front and hind wings to startle predators and give it chance to escape.
Headline: Grow your own butterflies
CJ Wildbird Foods of Upton Magna, Shropshire, has plenty to interest butterfly and moth lovers. There's a Butterfly Garden Grow Kit, which lets you experience caterpillars growing into butterflies. It also has hundreds of books on butterflies and moths and some lovely laminated identification charts of butterflies and moths - which are great if you're out and about.
Seven-year-old Louis Cavelle of Cheddleton in the Staffordshire Moorlands kept a diary of the very hungry caterpillars he helped transform into a beautiful butterflies. Louis bought a Grow Your Own Butterfly Kit from CJ, which include a hibernation box, instruction book and butterfly identification chart. Then he completed an ownership certificate and sent for his caterpillars.
Louis and the Painted Ladies
The five caterpillars have arrived safe and sound and I have put them on a shelf in my bedroom. Their home is a clear put with their food already in it - it looks like yellow candle wax
Lots of moving around, they seem to be growing
The caterpillars have got twice as big and there is webbing in the pot
They are moving around a lot and there is lots of silk webbing. They are really big now. You can see all their legs and watch them climb up and down the tub, clinging to the lid. At the end of the week I went away for a few days and when I came back three caterpillars were hanging in a J shape on the lid. This means they are getting ready to form their chrysalis.
Three caterpillars are chrysalises. Two are lying on the bottom of the pot. We moved three of them onto the hatching habitat with a spoon. Two days later another became a J-shape on the lid and we moved it with the others but mummy said the fifth one had died.
The first butterfly has hatched. It is called a Painted Lady. It was very still and seemed to be resting. At night the second one hatched and the next day the third one. We picked flowers and made sugared water and fed the butterflies by dropping the water on to the flowers and putting them in with the butterflies.
Two days later we released the three butterflies into the garden and a few days after we let the last one go.
For more information, visit www.birdfood.co.uk or call freephone 0800 731 2820.