Flowers that fly
11:22 05 September 2011
What has happened to the English butterfly? The answer is quite simple; its habitat has been destroyed. The meadowland butterflies have dwindled because intensive farming has ploughed right up to the edges of fields taking with it the wild flowers and weeds on which they depended, and even those that grew in the hedges because many hedges have been ripped out.
The woodland butterflies have dwindled because plastics and other artificial materials have replaced the wood that was produced by coppicing so the trees all grow to full height and sunlight no longer falls on the forest floor so the flowers that nourished them can no longer grow there. Semi-natural woodland has yielded to conifers, which also seriously threaten all other flora and fauna.
Conifer plantations have also eroded many acres of open heathland and the butterflies that lived there, and brownfield sites, such as derelict mines, which suited some butterflies, have been built upon.
So the butterflies have declined, but they are far from extinct and if you want to see the rarer species visit Snitterfield Bushes, the 120 acres of woodland that straddles the road between Snitterfield and Bearley. It was used as an ammunition dump during the Second World War and as a legacy possesses a network of wide concrete paths that admit plenty of light. Now Warwickshire Wildlife Trust owns it and coppices it thoroughly. Plants and wild flowers multiply. So do the butterflies.
Butterfly conservation is not the Trusts particular aim at Snitterfield, nor at Ryton Wood (adjacent to the country park near Bubbenhall) where, working with the Warwickshire Branch of Butterfly Conservation (which has 200 members including a sizeable number of active volunteers) the wood is coppiced and the adjoining Butterfly Conservation-owned meadow is grazed and managed for butterflies. The volunteers avidly record the butterflies found on both sites.
There are 35 species of butterfly in Warwickshire and 33 of them live either in Ryton Wood or in the adjoining Ryton Wood Meadow. What of the two remaining species? The Dark Green Fritillary is found at only one site in the county and where it is I may not say, for the society thinks that too much intrusion would harm it. The Small Blue can be found on the banks of Southam Bypass, where the society has planted the favourite food of its caterpillar, kidney vetch, and to successful effect.
The Chairman of the Warwickshire Branch, Keith Warmington, tells me that his volunteers have worked at several other sites in the county, including Ufton Fields, Stockton Cutting, the site of an old railway line, and Harbury. Hawthorn scrub has been cleared and the plants that butterfly caterpillars like have been introduced, wild strawberry to tempt the Grizzled Skipper and birds foot trefoil for the Dingy Skipper.
Spring arrived early this year, so the butterflies that breed in the spring, including the two skippers, have done well, but an unsettled summer means that we are seeing less of the later breeders, such as the White Admiral and the Small Skipper.
Would you like to help Keith Warmington and his team? Visit www.warwickshire-butterflies.org.uk
To contact the Campaign to Protect Rural England, telephone 01926 494597 or visit www.crpewarwickshire.org.uk