No. 46 NEWSLETTER Summer 2000
WEST MIDLANDS BRANCH, BUTTERFLY CONSERVATION
A Micro Environment
Prior to moving home last September, we lived in a rural Worcestershire setting – Wyre Forest – with a large garden. Our new back garden is small, 42 feet square, in a semi-rural location adjacent to the Severn Valley Railway Viaduct; the ten arches afford a framed view of a private five acre wood.
With little air turbulence, the garden rests in a micro-habitat which was vividly demonstrated on the 10th March with a temperature reading of 25oC . This was the day that I witnessed 11 Comma butterflies cavorting in a compacted aerial display at a height of 5 – 12 feet for a period of several minutes before ascending vertically to an unknown height and disappearing from view despite the aid of binoculars.
Returning to terra firma – butterfly records in the garden for the first ten days of March 2000 read – Speckled Wood, Peacock, Comma, Small Tortoiseshell, Red Admiral, Brimstone, Green -veined White, Large White.
Question – do sightings elsewhere in the West Midlands show a degree of exceptional butterfly activity associated with possible global warming?
Conservation in Spain – the Good, the Bad and the Ugly
You might think that a country that allows its hunters to slaughter thousands of
birds each year and hangs donkeys from church towers during fiestas is incapable
of any form of conservation. In part you would be right. In this short article I
would like to pass on to you the good, the bad and the ugly.
It seems only right to start with the good and the way it affects those of us who believe in butterfly conservation. There is no one group or institution that deals solely with the conservation of butterflies. Any body formed to protect the environment suffers from the usual problem of staffing and funding. Each capital city has a department that not only deals with conservation of the environment, but is responsible for a thousand other problems at the same time. To catch or study butterflies you must obtain a licence from the appropriate department. Those of you who have tried this route will know that it is easier to win the national lottery. This, in a strange way, is in itself a form of conservation, as these overworked departments rarely hand out licences. Unfortunately this leads to unscrupulous exploitation by those who go in search of rare species knowing that they are unlikely to be caught as a single warden patrols an area of many thousand square kilometres and cannot be properly effective.
One of the most beautiful regions for collectors and those who study butterflies the area of Albarracin, near Tervel, which is situated two hours north of where I live in Valencia. The landscape is stunning with a river running through the centre of the valley and the river banks and verges covered in the most beautiful flowers. These attract an enormous variety of butterflies, from the Chalkhill Blue, Lysandra arragonensis, which in this region is very pale in comparison to the normal variety. Small Blue, Cupido minimus, Chapmans Blue, Agrodiaetus thersites, Adonis Blue, Lysandra bellargus, and many other species from Fritillaries to Pale Clouded Yellows, Hairstreaks, Skippers, and the most beautiful Cleopatra, Gonepteryx cleopatra. Further into the mountain there are Coppers, Graylings and Swallowtails and the Scarce Swallowtail, Iphilides feisthameli. Here can be found, in my opinion, the most stunning of European butterflies, the Apollo, Parnassius. Although scarce, on a hot July day, they can still be seen if you know exactly where to look.
Last year, on a visit to this area, I stopped at a local café for coffee and sat next to four English men who were discussing their days adventures: the conversation revolved round Apollo butterflies, exchanging information about where they had been sighted. I then heard one say “Did you manage to catch any?”. “No, but I’m going to try again tomorrow” came the reply. I asked them if they knew that it was illegal to catch protected species – they declined to answer and left. Spain is such a vast country that it would be impossible to provide physical protection in all the National Parks, but I believe that slowly but surely they are doing something about it.
Knowing where to start on the bad features of the Spanish approach to conservation is the problem. Spanish people are in general the tidiest, cleanest, most fastidious that I know when it comes to their homes, even to the point of washing the pavement outside and in some cases the road as well. When they leave their homes they leave this attitude behind them. In spite of the fact that bins are emptied every day and most towns have bottle and paper banks, tons of household rubbish despoil the countryside. The local authorities provide waste bins in all picnic locations but fail to empty them regularly, thus giving the wildlife ample time to scavenge the refuse and scatter the contents over a wide area. I’ve asked many of my Spanish friends to explain this phenomenon and they just shrug their shoulders and say that there is plenty of countryside so dumping a little bit of rubbish is not going to cause a problem.
Those of you with a nervous disposition should read no further. Many of you have seen the ugly way animals are sometimes treated in the name of tradition and before I describe two of our local customs I feel I must point out that Britain is infamous for its fox hunting. This is always the standard response when any form of cruelty is mentioned here. Despite the fact that we allow dogs to chase and tear apart defenceless foxes at least we do it in the name of conservation, or so I am lead to believe.
The first fiesta involves, like most fiestas, steers. Local boys would like you to believe that they are large ferocious bulls, but in most cases they are young steers. In mid afternoon the steers are released into the streets and the lads of the village chase and pelt them with stones, sticks, empty drinks cans and anything that comes to hand; at the same time dodging into doorways and behind barricades as the terrified animals slip and slide round the streets. At some pre-arranged time the animals are rounded up and placed in a corral until evening. When night has fallen straw rags are placed around their horns and ignited. The animals are again released into the streets and chased until the flames go out. I’m assured that the flames do no harm to the animals, nor do they cause any pain, however, I’m not so sure about their mental wellbeing.
The second event is not so much a fiesta as a slaughter. The local hunting club, not content with shooting anything that moves during the year, holds its annual meeting several hundred metres away from where I live. During the year one of the members breeds several hundred pigeons to be transported to the killing ground for the grand shoot. During the day they are gradually released whereupon everyone with a gun opens fire. A few get away uninjured, but the majority of those that do escape are too injured to live for long and for days afterwards we find dying birds that have to be destroyed.
It’s not all bad news though, public opinion is slowly changing and many fiestas have been modified so that animals are no longer used or used more humanely. There is even a small ripple of public opinion against bull fighting and who knows this millennium may well see the ripple turn into a tidal wave.
Editor’s note: Graham Stevens works for the Fundacion Entomologica Torres Sala and is based in Valencia. He is also the Researcher for the Tervel area which includes the Monte Universales mountain range famed for its beauty and biodiversity.