Like most other places in the British Isles, butterflies are much harder to find on Gower than a generation ago. I set out down Frog Lane in Llanmadoc hoping to find marbled whites. At the bottom of the path, an old plaque marks part of the Wildlife Trust’s reserve at Cwm Ivy Woods and it’s a place that seems always to attract butterflies. It’s warm and I’m out of the wind and all I need do is sit and watch. Meadow brown is the most common butterfly on Gower, and they’re all around me, and speckled woods too are common, drifting in and out of the woodland behind. A few whites, some too quick to identify, come in and out of the little hollow, but the best are the common blues, which come close, searching for food in the patches of bird’s foot trefoil around my feet.
The hardened footpath attracts tortoiseshell butterflies soaking up the sun; so common when I was young, they’re much more difficult to find now. In the lea of the wind on the sea wall, there are more whites and a single ringlet, which always seem to prefer damp unimproved spots. There are probably more, but I walk on towards the dunes at the other end of the sea wall, where I’m confident of finding my quarry.
I’ve found marbled whites at this spot each year for as long as I’ve lived here, and the population around this conifer plantation, and in the nearby dunes is the largest on Gower. There are other spots such as Oxwich Marsh where I can be confident of seeing them, but Whiteford is the by far the best place. So striking in dappled white and shades of grey, they’re by far the commonest of the many butterflies here. I sit and marvel, trying to recall a world before modern farming and pesticides decimated the country’s butterflies.