The British subspecies of the Swallowtail is pretty much restricted to the Norfolk Broads and is a species whose numbers have increased in recent years although its distribution may have contracted. It’s a species of conservation concern and is the subject of conservation measures and studies.
Kevin Radley and Hannah Breach are carrying out an independent study of overwintering pupae at a nature reserve in an SSSI which is part of The Broads Special Area of Conservation (although I am keeping the exact location secret in deference to the site’s owners, a conservation body).
Their study involves finding Swallowtail pupae and monitoring their survival. This winter, Kevin and Hannah located 18 Swallowtail pupae; this one (pictured below) was located in December 2020. Amazing isn’t it?
Kevin and Hannah set up a trail cam to monitor this pupa and on 18 March along came a Pheasant and gobbled it up! The video below is amazing although I had to look at it several times before I was sure what I was seeing – it all happens so quickly (inside the first 4 seconds of the video)!
This is the first photographic evidence of a Pheasant predating a rare butterfly pupa to my knowledge but if there are lots more I’d love to hear about them.
One pupa being predated doesn’t prove anything – except, for the first time, that such events do happen – but Pheasant numbers are high, I am told, on this site and that is certainly a cause for concern.
This pupa, and most pupae, are located at just the height which will bring them most easily to a wandering Pheasant’s attention and be within easy pecking reach. It is the type of incident that supports the concerns of Wild Justice and strengthens the need for DEFRA and Natural England to act strongly on releases of non-native gamebirds on or near designated sites such as this one – a site which is an SSSI and SAC. No Pheasants are released on this site – their presence is due to the scale of release on adjacent farmland.
DEFRA’s proposed protection measures which exhort gamebird shoots to stick to the existing industry guidelines on densities in release pens (which are currently widely ignored) will do nothing to reduce any impacts of gamebird predation of invertebrates of conservation concern on this and similar sites. There is no suggestion that the existing releases are above the best-practice guidelines – they might be, but no-one is suggesting that here (nobody knows). DEFRA’s proposed measures will not necessarily limit overall numbers of non-native gamebirds released and will not reduce their ingress into sites of conservation concern.
DEFRA should do more.