The site management event planned by Butterfly Conservation Ireland and the Burrenbeo Trust for Fahee North/Termon in the Burren on Saturday 2nd November has been postponed because the weather forecast is for heavy rain and high winds. We hope to hold the event in February 2020 on either Saturday 15th or Saturday 22nd of February according to the weather.
The site is beautiful and very rich in butterflies and moths so it really is important to keep it in great condition.
A cool, sunny day on Saturday 26th of October made for very pleasant working conditions on our Kildare reserve. An enthusiastic group tackled scrub re-growth from around five years previously. The area we worked on has breeding habitat for Brimstone, Marsh Fritillary, Dark Green Fritillary and Wood Tiger among several other species. The area has a mosaic of habitats packed into a small area attractive to a diverse range of species with very different foodplants and specific micro-habitat needs.
We took a number of steps to cater for all these species. Dense willow and dense birch was cut down but two tree species growing among the birch and willow-Alder Buckthorn and Purging Buckthorn, the foodplants for the larva of the Brimstone butterfly and Holly Blue butterfly were identified and spared. The buckthorns now have more light around them. This makes them more suitable as breeding plants.
By clearing and removing the scrub, we made Common Dog Violet plants, used for breeding by the Dark Green Fritillary butterfly, open to the light. Rough vegetation near the violets was preserved so that the caterpillars will have areas to hide in and to bask on during sunny weather next spring.
Another issue to deal with was a flush of birch saplings. These threaten to out-compete St John’s Wort used by the Wood Tiger caterpillars and Devil’s-bit Scabious used by the caterpillars of the Narrow-bordered Bee Hawkmoth and Marsh Fritillary butterfly. We uprooted these, which yielded readily due to the soft soil.
All uprooted and cut material was placed in a pile to the north to avoid casting a shadow on breeding areas. It was heartening to step back and look at what we achieved and we know our butterflies and moths will thank us for it!
As usual, we had great conversations about a range of subjects, enjoyed the food we brought and shared. Conservation is about people too!
A special thanks to everyone who worked so hard and to all our members and supporters.
Kildare County Council has refused permission for a solar farm and other works on Drehid North, Timahoe, County Kildare. Butterfly Conservation Ireland objected to the application early this year (see https://butterflyconservation.ie/wp/2019/02/19/butterfly-conservation-ireland-lodges-objection-to-proposed-solar-farm/)
The development would involve drainage of part of the site and this would have damaged or destroyed wet heath, a habitat listed on Annex I of the Habitats’ Directive. In addition, the planning authority was unsatisfied with the Environmental Impact Assessment Report, which, it seems, did not include important data required under the Habitats’ and Birds Directive specifically the identification of species and habitats protected under these directives. Butterfly Conservation Ireland drew attention to some of these deficiencies in our original objection, such as the failure to identify the presence of the Marsh Fritillary which breeds on the site.
Following the original application, Kildare County Council called for additional information. In an attempt to protect the habitats and moth and butterfly species on the site, some of which are very important, Butterfly Conservation Ireland worked with the ecological consultants for the project to develop a plan to avoid construction on the habitats that are important to the butterflies and moths and to create a management plan to preserve the habitats and populations present. Butterfly Conservation Ireland submitted the contents of the plan to the planning authority, indicating that the plan if implemented, would protect the habitats that contain the high diversity and high abundance of Lepidoptera species.
The implementation of the plan is very important, as natural succession in the form of semi-natural woodland is changing the grassland habitats and will lead to population declines and to important species being lost.
Refusal of permission will mean that the wet heath is preserved. This is important for some bird species and some moths. However, the greatest diversity of Lepidoptera species is located outside the heath, on the semi-natural grassland, the area that is subject to successional change. The best outcome is that the plan to control invasive scrub is put into effect. Butterfly Conservation Ireland will press for the management plan to be implemented.
It should be reiterated that clean energy, such as solar energy, is welcome as part of the response to reduce carbon emissions. The Drehid site is very large and an area that has very poor habitat could have been selected by the applicants, a point Butterfly Conservation Ireland made in our objection in January 2019. In fact, however, it would be much better to avoid peatland sites altogether. We hope this lesson will be heeded for any future application.
The phrase “climate change” is inescapable right now. I heard the phrase used in the budget speech in the Dáil. I heard the term in a House of Commons debate on Tuesday 8th October. It is used everywhere, on TV, radio, online. It is used in school textbooks so everyone, young and old, is familiar with it. It has fired campaigning zeal especially from the young. Concern about climate change is not new. In The Great Gatsby, the American novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald published in 1926, Tom Buchanan expresses his confused view of climate change:
“I read somewhere that the sun’s getting hotter every year,” said Tom genially. “It seems pretty soon the earth’s going to fall into the sun-or wait a minute-it’s just the opposite-the sun’s getting colder every year”.
Tom does not comment on anthropomorphic climate change, the subject of most of today’s climate discourse but his remarks show an awareness of climate change.
Climate change is ‘normal’. It has occurred throughout history and pre-history. The nineteenth-century saw some very curious weather patterns in these islands. We had damp, warm weather in the second half of the 1840s, good weather for the most part from 1850-1877 and mainly colder conditions for most of the rest of the nineteenth century with the occasional warm, sunny summer (1893).
We have had some bitterly cold winters and even cold years. This most notably happened in the years 1739-1741 when bitterly cold weather killed an estimated 310,000-480,000 people out of an Irish population estimated at 2.4 million. This killed up to 20% of the Irish population, a far higher percentage than those killed by The Great Famine 1845-1850. The seas froze, cattle and sheep died of the cold, crops failed. The frozen Shannon was crossed on horseback.
No cause has been identified for this remarkable climate event. Climate change expert Professor John Sweeney of the Irish Climate Analysis Research Unit (ICARUS) at Maynooth University said the cause of the catastrophic winter of 1740-41, often referred to as the mini Ice Age, remains a mystery.
Where does this leave us today? While I am not a climatologist, I feel that the current focus on climate change is probably somewhat misplaced. Butterfly and moth populations are often seen as indicators of climate change. Many species have very particular requirements that are easily upset by change. The immature stages are the most sensitive. The larval stage is the growth stage and without the correct conditions, larvae do not develop. Pupae formerly believed not to be particularly sensitive to damp have recently been demonstrated to suffer from prolonged exposure to rain in a number of British and Irish species.
However, in the most recent assessments of our butterfly and moth populations published by the National Parks and Wildlife Service, Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Dublin in 2010 (butterflies) and 2016 (macro-moths) which assessed the conservation status of 30 butterflies and 501 macro-moths (the larger moth species) pointed mainly to habitat change as the cause of declines. Climate change is not mentioned in relation to the conservation status of any of the butterflies assessed.
Only three of the 501 moths were stated to be negatively affected now or predicted to be negatively affected in the future by climate change; these are Red Carpet (“Habitat loss is considered one of the main causes for this decline but it may also be impacted by climate change.”), Sandhill Rustic (“The moth occurs on undercliffs and upper beach so is threatened by habitat loss through factors such as erosion and in the long term by climate change”) and Northern Dart (“The upland habitat used is threatened by changing land use, overgrazing and climate change.”) However, in the case of these three species, habitat loss is also strongly implicated. While the conservation status of Lepidoptera species Ireland does not appear to be affected by climate change (except for three species), of course, this may not be the case elsewhere.
What is known for certain is that habitat has been lost and continues to be lost. Habitats can be lost arising from climate change (coastal erosion, for example) but most of our habitat loss in this part of the world has been the result of straight forward destruction by humans. This is by far the greatest threat to our butterfly and moth populations.
Habitat loss is a global crisis. This is the crisis that should be to the forefront of campaign activism. We have clear, undeniable evidence for habitat loss and its effects. The same cannot be said for certain aspects of climate change. Evidence for habitat loss in prehistory can be obtained from the fossil records, showing massive declines in tree pollen as humans cleared the land of woodland. We have little or no fully natural ancient woodland on this island. In the last 80 years, we have all but destroyed our precious, precious peatlands.
The impulse towards ravaging the few sad, degraded remnants remains virulent. Here is a recent example. Ballynafagh Bog, about 1 km west of Prosperous village in county Kildare was designated as a Special Area of Conservation under the EU Habitats’ Directive. This gives it legal protection. Looking at the bog, I find it hard to understand why this small, badly damaged site was designated as a protected site. Quite a lot of restoration work is needed given how badly damaged it is by burning, cutting (out of 160 hectares of the bog, 90 hectares has been cut) and afforestation. However, in the budget £5m was ringfenced to restore damaged peatlands. Good news for the climate, because bogs are carbon stores, good news for flood prevention because bogs hold massive quantities of water, good news for nature.
However, the government department that designated the bog, The Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, applied to Kildare County Council to open a new turf cutting site on Coolree Bog which is part of Ballynafagh Bog but outside the boundary line of the protected/designated zone. Kildare County Council refused permission. Determined to proceed, The Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht appealed the decision to An Board Pleanála. The Board also refused permission mainly on the grounds of carbon emissions. The Department wanted to relocate turf cutters from Ballynafagh Bog which the state must protect, to a ‘new’ bog.
Think of the logic. The state, supposedly worried about carbon emissions and climate change, have a strategy of reducing carbon emissions by allowing turf cutting which vastly increases carbon emissions. The state, under a legal obligation to protect and restore damaged peatlands, is using peat cutting as a conservation tool. The state, whose politicians just offered a budget to address carbon emissions, will continue to push turf cutting, which destroys bogs. The state published the Red List for Irish Butterflies which describes the threats faced by the Large Heath butterfly:
The Large Heath is confined to extensive blanket bogs and raised bogs and has lost much of its habitat due to drainage, afforestation, and peat extraction. The assessment of the overall status and future prospects of its habitats is poor… A population reduction is suspected to be met in the future (>30%) based on a decline in habitat quality…
The Large Heath is rated Vulnerable on the Red List. The next step up is Endangered, a rating likely if ongoing peatland destruction continues.
In short, the state aims to reduce emissions by increasing emissions, to damage habitats and then repair them and to conserve habitats by destroying them. As for the state’s attitude to biodiversity on bogs, represented in this article by the demise of the Large Heath…
Perhaps we should be really worried about habitat destruction? Habitat removal brings climate change. This applies to the destruction of bogs, forests, natural and semi-natural grasslands and other habitat types. Such is the damage that has been and continues to be done to the habitats in our environment locally and globally that there is no catastrophising about habitat loss.
Allen, D., O’Donnell, M., Nelson, B., Tyner, A., Bond, K.G.M., Bryant, T., Crory, A., Mellon, C., O’Boyle, J., O’Donnell, E., Rolston, T., Sheppard, R., Strickland, P., Fitzpatrick, U., & Regan, E. (2016) Ireland Red List No. 9: Macro-moths (Lepidoptera). National Parks and Wildlife Service, Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Dublin, Ireland.
O’Connell, C, Madigan, M and Farrell, P (2019) Peatland News Issue 68 Autumn 2019. Irish Peatland Conservation Council.
Regan, E.C., Nelson, B., Aldwell, B., Bertrand, C., Bond, K., Harding, J., Nash, D., Nixon, D., & Wilson, C.J. (2010) Ireland Red List No. 4 – Butterflies. National Parks and Wildlife Service, Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Ireland.
Accessed: October 13th 2019
Author: Alison Bray
Date: December 30th 2010
The fairly dramatic deluges and winds of the past two weeks have altered the landscape and butterfly scene, underlining the onset of autumn. Yesterday, Sunday, October 6th, provided a welcome break, with sunshine and light breezes.
In October one must look more assiduously for butterflies, peering at shadows cast by a high-flying insect or shading eyes against sharp autumn light to check clusters of blackberries and ivy blossom for feeding moths and butterflies.
Indeed, Ivy is a very useful plant for moths, butterflies and many other creatures. At this stage many ivy plants are in full bloom, their yellowish-green inflorescence packed with nectar. At night it is a favourite with moths; in daylight, these same moths often roost in its dense, evergreen foliage. For anyone with patience, it is often well worth checking ivy draped over a wall that had Holly Blue butterflies flying around it in August and September. Check the stalk of the flowers for slug-shaped Holly Blue caterpillars. These are feeding on the developing berry, their heads deep within the oval cup, scooping out its goodness.
While the clouds of Painted Ladies are gone, the scarlet and black Red Admiral is still about, feeding on wounded blackberries and ivy and, if it can find it, a tree leaking sap. I saw a few of these handsome butterflies yesterday but these are easily disturbed at this time of year, often flying into tree-tops when you approach one that is lower down on bramble.
Comma butterflies, still rare or absent in most areas, are nomadic in autumn and can turn up anywhere that nectar exists near woods, dense hedgerows or groves of trees. I was lucky to see one yesterday, perching briefly on a now bedraggled buddleia before gliding casually off to hide in tall willow. The Comma will sit still at other times, especially on fallen fruit or Ice Plant flowers, giving wonderful views of its deep orange-red upper surfaces and deeply scalloped wing margins.
Finally, even though most butterflies have finished flying, their caterpillars can be searched for quite profitably in areas that were heavily frequented by the adults. With this in mind, I checked Common Sorrel leaves where I had seen Small Coppers loitering in early September. After finding hatched eggs on the upper sides of some leaves, I checked the undersides and soon found some young, first instar larvae. These will feed for a time before over-wintering deep in the grassy vegetation before resuming feeding in spring.
There are some lovely moths too, especially for moth trappers who leave their light traps out in good habitat on mild nights. Beaded Chestnut, with its rich wood-coloured wings, is really abundant in early October and if you are fortunate, a Merveille du Jour may turn up to brighten any October morning when you go out to inspect your catch.
Keep on looking-autumn, the “season of mist and mellow fruitfulness” has much to offer and if one has to look harder to find it, the discoveries are all the sweeter.