Butterflies in the landscape, and a Christmas present too

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.

Marsh fritillary By Júlio Reis (Original file) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
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.


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12 Replies to “Butterflies in the landscape, and a Christmas present too”

  1. What a great idea Mark join MP’s and others too smaller trusts, sorry Butterfly Conservation, never thought of that. Even if they snub the membership the trust gets the money. If only I had spare cash laying around I think I would join up Tony Blair to Greenpeace, George Osbourne to Bankers Protection League a small trust that seeks to preserve bankers right to be greedy and create a tax free haven a proposed interim reserve is being created for them on the Channel Islands, however I would send Owen Patterson to some anger management classes, it’s only a matter of time before he snaps, he won’t take a Butterfly Conservation membership, you can’t shoot a butterfly.
    I would be interested to see/hear from you Mark if Richard Benyon excepts the current membership and wether he renews it, I bet he doesn’t.

  2. Surely Mr. Cameron and the Cabinet of the “Greenest Government Ever” will already be Life Members of Butterfly Conservation!

  3. Since gift membership is currently half price why not donate the money you save here:


    Apparently they have a scheme in collaboration with with some landfill operators who will raise your donation by a factor of ten. Tag gift aid onto your donation if you are a taxpayer and £16 from you means £200 for butterfly conservation. In terms of maximising your individual impact from a charitable donation that’s hard to beat I reckon.

  4. Sorry BCT I could not stand the idea of any of my money buying Osborne anything. The only thing I may be tempted by would be an idiots guide to maths and economics.

  5. Hi Mark,

    I’d love to read the report, if only I could find it! No link on BC’s own news item page; “currently unavailable” on Amazon… As a BC member, helping with “habitat restoration” in the Chilterns (attempting to attract Chalk-hill Blues), reading about the report here first is a bit frustrating! Still, just goes to show how useful your blog is!

  6. Landscape-scale conservation for butterflies and moths – lessons from the UK
    I have looked for this report on the internet but cannot find it. Do you have a link to it Mark? I would love to read it. Your link doesn’t take me to the report.

  7. Blean is an iconic example of what good woodland management can do for wildlife – its rather good for Nightingales too ! Well done both BC & on the ground managers RSPB.

    Another iconic example is the Forest of Neroche, recovered from unsuccessful coniferisation. Both have some important common features: if you want to go big, you have to go multi-purpose, not just conservation. Which doesn’t mean conservation can’t lead. Large scale means you can look after a range of habitats -so whilst coppice may lead at Blean, there is also space for both managed & unmanaged high forest – which the Green woodpeckers love.

    There’s a ,ot of confusion between habitat led & species led conservation – the best, however, is to use species requirements to guide habitat-led management – which BC are particularly good at. If you take the eye off the species ball you can end up with standard prescriptions that don’t actually deliver species – a problem in heathland management in particular at the moment.

    Is there growing evidence that some species behave differently with more space ? I’ve mentioned Bitterns at Ham Wall/Shapwick before. John Davis of BC told me that Wood White have surprised them at Neroche – normally considered rather weak flyers & relatively immobile, given more space and habitat links Wood White have started moving around all over the forest !

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