Saturday, 15 July 2017

Counting Individual Butterflies

In 1977, Mary Gillham wrote in her book ‘The Natural History of Gower’ that “Cliffs as flowery as those of Gower cannot fail to be alive with butterflies in suitable weather”.  She did not predict the dramatic consequences intensive farming, and the use of more lethal pesticides would have on British wildlife.  Butterflies have suffered badly, and Gower has followed the national trend.

Even though it’s an in-between time for some species of butterflies, July should be one of the best months, but there are very few about again this year. Meadow browns and small heaths are normally all over the cliffs by now, and I’ve seen only a handful of each so far this summer. I need to search for the few common blues and brown argus that seek the more sheltered spots in Overton Mere. Both peak during July, but I find only a couple of each on the western side of the little bay. The land directly above the beach, which was once used to grow potatoes, turns out to be a little more productive. There are no small or large whites, both are between broods, but painted ladies, a small tortoiseshell, some skippers, and a fading red admiral all keep low to the ground. But it’s the small numbers that underwhelms me, and again I find myself counting the number of individual butterflies, rather than species.

There is hope. As a result of public pressure, Governments in all four UK countries are now aware of the new family of neonicitinoid pesticides, and the EU has voted for a temporary ban on their use. The half-life of some of these pesticides is measured in many years, and stopping their use might eventually help butterfly numbers to increase. We must see if our government complies with the EU directive, but even then, it may be a long time before we see any marked recovery.

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