I’m sorry I can’t attend the launch today of a marvellous report by Butterfly Conservation.
Landscape-scale conservation for butterflies and moths – lessons from the UK is a superb document about how to do nature conservation. Few of our UK conservation organisations could produce something so impressive in terms of demonstrating how to conserve threatened species. What this report demonstrates for butterflies and moths illustrates some general truths for nature conservation as a whole. And the Defra Ministerial team could do far worse than to book a summer’s day out with Martin Warren and his team to learn something of how nature conservation works on the ground.
Everyone talks about landscape-scale conservation but how many have done it? Is the term even useful? Maybe it is, but I suspect it means different things to different people at different times, and has become a slightly meaningless catchphrase. At least Butterfly Conservation define their understanding of it in this report as being ‘ the coordinated conservation and management of habitats for a range of species across a large natural area, often made up of a network of sites‘. That’ll do, although others might define it as ‘a nature reserve whose far side is a long way away‘.
Whatever we call it, successful conservation often involves geography as well as botany and zoology. It’s what you do and where you do it that matters. For insects in particular, their continued presence in a landscape depends on enough of the right management happening in enough places which are close enough to each other so that overall the species hops from place to place from year to year but is never completely snuffed out. This is illustrated really well by the story of the heath fritillary in Blean Woods over a 7-year period, where the butterfly’s occupancy of the wood tracked the management that was done. It’s a beautiful illustration of how detailed understanding of the species’s needs is, in this case (and isn’t it usually?) the key to successful targetted conservation management.
The story of successful conservation of marsh fritillaries in Dorset is also a classic. Twenty-five years of study and practical action have led to big increases in population levels in chalk grassland areas where appropriate grazing has been encouraged by agri-environment schemes. Chalk grassland populations have increased because the ESA scheme encouraged the right type of cattle grazing whereas wet grassland populations have declined a bit because grazing is more difficult to arrange. Now that the ESA scheme has come to an end, the continued success of the marsh fritillary depends largely on the HLS scheme.
You should read this report and Butterfly Conservation should use it to persuade others. If Butterfly Conservation had ten times as much money, then I would feel a lot happier about the future of our butterflies, but even as it is they are doing a fantastic job. Are you a member – gift membership available as a Christmas present if you move, or drop your hints, quickly?
Maybe those Defra Ministers need a present – in fact they do! So I’ve just bought Richard Benyon membership at the knockdown price of £14 and asked him to renew the subscription himself next year. Why don’t you buy Owen Paterson or David Cameron or George Osborne or Ed Miliband or your MP Butterfly Conservation membership? Think of it as a £14 donation, or tell yourself that your chosen MP will emerge as a fully formed butterfly lover some time in the future.