2019: the year of the Painted Lady?

Occasionally we experience enormous influxes of the Painted Lady, a migrant that originates in North Africa or perhaps the Middle East. We had millions reaching our shores in 2009 after a huge build up in Morocco saw a mass migration to Spain. These produced a huge generation in Spain that moved north and arrived in Britain and Ireland in late May and early June 2009. These produced a native generation in these islands that migrated south in September. 

Butterfly Conservation Ireland member John Lovatt reports on a mass migration event that has just taken place in Cyprus. It is being speculated that these came from Kuwait. The vegetation in Cyprus is currently ideal for butterfly breeding as the rains have been plentiful there this winter. Will the offspring of these Painted Ladies arrive here in early summer? Time will tell…

Painted Lady Migration from 21st March-9th April 2919 in Famagusta “county”, Greek Cyprus

I have repeated a visit to the same Gkreko district in Famagusta for the past seven years in March/April to observe bird migration.

This year I witnessed an unprecedented large migration of Painted Lady butterflies. There were small numbers seen daily from 17th March which would be the norm at this time of year.

On 21st March there was an invasion of Painted Ladies which one might liken to what might be expected with locusts. Clouds of butterflies arrived constantly all day. There were around 100 butterflies in front of me and the same number on both sides and behind me. To look beyond, the same numbers were everywhere as far as I could observe. I estimated at least a million on the Gkreko Head district and when at Paralimni about eight km. distant, there was a similar migration. I later learned at Nicosia there were unprecedented numbers there. This information came from a well-respected bird watcher.  I later heard there were large numbers at Pafos, a two-hour drive away to the west.  It must be reasonable to consider the large numbers were present all along the south coast and into the Turkish south coast on the panhandle to the east.

It was considered five million butterflies in the whole Famagusta district to Nicosia would be a conservative estimate. This would only be section of the whole migration along all the coast.

Numbers continue to arrive but in much lower numbers of 30/300k daily up to the 8th April. On the 8th April there was another large invasion, but not like the 21st March, with perhaps a million estimated in the Gkreko district.

There were a few Painted Lady butterflies observed which were about two thirds the size of the usual ones observed.

There was a large dragonfly migration at the same time, but nothing like the butterfly numbers. Clouded Yellow butterflies were also present, but perhaps ten to 20 seen daily.

In all, it has been a remarkable experience that has amazed the population of Cyprus, not simply nature lovers.

Painted Lady. © J.Harding.

 

 

Lullybeg Reserve Update

A sharp easterly wind is keeping the butterflies grounded on Lullybeg Butterfly Reserve in Lullybeg, County Kildare. So far in 2019, we have spotted Brimstones, Small Tortoiseshells and Peacocks.

We await Orange-tips, Green-veined Whites, Speckled Woods and Common Heath moths which we expect at this time of year. All we need now is good weather.

There has been an extensive management programme undertaken since last summer and the results are very keenly awaited. Grazing on part of the northern section, mechanical removal of very dense scrub to extend high-quality grassland habitat and manual removal of scrub on an area on the southern side of the reserve by our members has really extended opportunities for the reserve’s butterflies and moths.

We can report that the Marsh Fritillary is really thriving. Over forty nests (many containing hundreds of larvae) survived the winter and many, if not all the caterpillars are now in their fifth or even sixth instar growth stage (there are six instar stages in this species’ larvae). Over the next three weeks, healthy larvae will enter the sixth instar followed by pupation. Fingers crossed we will see outstanding numbers of this gorgeous butterfly darting around in late May and during June.

A nice surprise is the re-discovery on the reserve of the beautiful day-flying Wood Tiger moth. A larva was seen on a Devil’s-bit Scabious leaf (see below). This moth is rated Near Threatened on the Moth Red List (Ireland Red List No. 9 Macro-moths (Lepidoptera)). This record may be the first county record for Kildare, although the larva was found on the reserve about five years ago. The larva seen on April 13th was in a newly cleared area, so we are hopeful that it will increase here.

Other scarce moths found on the reserve are the Small Purple-barred, also Near Threatened. This species has a strong population at Lullybeg. This attractive day-flyer is usually found on unimproved calcareous grassland, limestone pavement and heath, but here it is, on cutover bog! We also have Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnet moth, ranked Vulnerable on the Moth List.

Over the coming months, a close watch on all of these species will be kept. We hope our efforts to maintain the special habitats here will meet the needs of the rare moths and butterflies that rely on the habitats at Lullybeg, as well as the more widespread species.

Wood Tiger larva on Lullybeg Reserve.© J.Harding.
Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnet Moth, ranked vulnerable, resides at Lullybeg. © J. Harding.
The cleared area used for breeding by the Wood Tiger moth.© J.Harding.
This area cleared of very dense scrub, is used by the Small Purple-barred moth, rated Near Threatened on the Red List for Ireland’s larger moths. © J.Harding.

Larval Survival Strategies

The butterfly larval stage is the growth stage for butterflies and moths. It is a highly sensitive stage highly vulnerable to disease, starvation, predation, infection by parasites and failure to thrive if environmental conditions turn hostile.

According to Newland et al. (2015) many adult butterflies live long enough to lay about 50 eggs. Of these, 20-40 might become caterpillars of which perhaps 10 will become chrysalises. Just 1-3 adults will be produced.

In these calculations, the highest numerical loss is seen in the larval stage. What do larvae do to avoid being eaten?

There are essentially two phenotypes (concerning the appearance of an organism arising from the relationship of its genetic makeup with the nature of its environment) used by Ireland’s butterfly larvae.

Some butterfly larvae are aposematic. This means that larvae are highly visible to send a warning signal that they are distasteful, toxic or painful to eat.

Such larvae do not attempt to hide or blend in with surroundings. These larvae feed openly, often in groups, unconcerned about an attack by birds. The larvae of the Large White, which are brashly obvious, are black, white and yellow. These are smooth-skinned but their bodies contain caustic mustard oils that will burn the mouth of a predator.

There are other aposematic larvae that are highly distasteful and painful to eat. The Marsh Fritillary larvae feed openly, in large groups until their final growth stages. The larvae are spiky, containing bristles and black, standing out when they bask on pale, dry leaf litter. The bristles are highly injurious. If you don’t believe me, try pressing one to your lips. Even doing so gently is quite unpleasant. If a bird does grab a spiky Marsh Fritillary, Peacock or Small Tortoiseshell larva, there is a chemical deterrent deployed which involves the larva placing its mouthparts against the bird’s beak and vomiting. The vile liquid (I’ve smelt it but not tasted it-yet!) provokes the bird to drop its prey.

If that is not enough, the larva also pushes its spines into the predator, causing it to recoil in pain and drop the larva.

Most of these larvae are quite unharmed when dropped and roll into a ball to present a forest of spikes in the event of another attempt on its life.

Marsh Fritillary larvae spines and distastefulness mean that it is almost immune to avian attack. © J.Harding.

The larvae of other species are cryptic and rely on blending into their surroundings. These larvae are soft-skinned and edible, highly attractive to birds. Their colour often matches the food plant. Their behaviour is usually highly secretive.

One example of such a larva is the Purple Hairstreak. This species feeds on oak leaves and flowers. The egg hatches in March and April when the oak buds begin to open. The tiny larva enters the opening buds but when older and the leaves unfurl it must feed openly. During the day it rests at the base on the leaves, on leaf scales which it closely resembles in colour and patterning. In order to continue to blend in with the scales, it spins a loose web around these in case they are shed by the tree, ensuring these are retained.

Feeding is now carried out at night when birds are inactive. Another strategy is its remarkably slow movement which avoids drawing attention. When oak leaves are unfurling, small birds scour the trees in search of the myriad larvae that feed on oak leaves. While Purple Hairstreak larvae resting at the base of the leaves are found, the research suggests that about half of the larvae survive on oak leaves with predation greatly increasing after leaving the tree to pupate (Thomas 2010).

Another strategy used by the larva of the Purple Hairstreak is to play dead if disturbed by a bird. If it is picked up, the larva stays still. A wriggling larva is a clear confirmation that live protein has been found, while a still creature might be a leaf scale or piece of bark.

Purple Hairstreak fourth instar larva on leaf scales. © J.Harding.

While the strategies described may protect some caterpillars from birds there are many other hazards. Many caterpillars are killed by bad weather, viruses, parasitoids and other predatorial animals, such as wasps.

When you see the perfect adult butterfly admire it not just for its beauty but for its achievement in getting this far!

References

Thomas, J. and Lewington, R. (2010) The Butterflies of Britain and Ireland. (Revised edition) British Wildlife Publishing, Dorset.

Newland, D., Still, R., Swash, A. and Tomlinson, D. (2015) Britain’s Butterflies (Third edition) Princeton University Press, New Jersey.

 

An Bord Pleanála refuses permission for Waterways Ireland ‘Blueway’

An Bord Pleanála has rejected Waterways Ireland’s appeal against the refusal by three local authorities of its application for the installation of hard surfaces along the River Barrow for all of County Carlow and part of County Laois and County Kildare.

This issue, which has created well-coordinated opposition by various groups supporting the continuation of the current grassy towpath and gentle management to preserve the relaxed character of the river and track and its associated wildlife has highlighted the unnecessary intrusion and destructiveness of some of Waterways Ireland’s actions.

It also highlights the body’s lack of commitment to biodiversity in its rush to exploit natural resources to turn a tourist profit. The decision also suggests a lack of realism and one wonders how wisely money was spent in pursuing this agenda.

On a related note, the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) has replied to our query concerning Waterways Ireland’s tree-felling along the Barrow.  The National Parks and Wildlife Service has told us that Waterways Ireland did not, as they should have done, consult NPWS concerning the tree-felling works carried out.  The reply from NPWS made it clear that Waterways Ireland did not check if a screening assessment for the tree-felling was required. Because this screening assessment was not done, it is not possible to say if the tree-felling needed ministerial consent or whether planning consent was needed.

It will be interesting to see if any action is taken by NPWS or Waterways Ireland to attempt to restore the habitat. Trees should be planted to replace those removed.

It is, unfortunately, quite disheartening that Waterways Ireland, a public body, cannot be trusted to follow the procedures laid down in the EU (Birds and Natural Habitats)Regulations 2011 and the parent Birds’ and Habitats’ Directives. Conservation bodies will need to remain vigilant.

Finally, congratulations and thanks to everyone who contributed to the campaign to protect the Barrow.

Waterways Destruction of trees: Questions Asked.

British comedian, Steve Coogan, in his Alan Partridge incarnation takes the starring role in an advertisement for a boat hire firm offering boating holidays on England’s canals.  One of Alan’s lines uttered on board a boat sailing along the tranquil wooded canal bank is “Try pedestrianising this”.

In the real world of Waterways Ireland’s activities, this is their desired outcome. Grassy canal banks are being pedestrianised, with hard black tarmac poured over green walkways,  which prior to their destruction, were ideal for strollers and casual cyclists alike. And for nature.

In 2018 Waterways Ireland was refused permission to build hard surfaces by Carlow County Council and was denied permission for part of their proposed walkway by two other planning authorities, Kildare and Laois County Councils. The councils did not accept Waterway Ireland’s assurances that their proposed development would not harm the habitats in the Special Area of Conservation along the River Barrow. One of the areas of contention was the negative impact on tree roots that would arise from preparing the ground for a walkway/cycleway by soil excavation and the laying of a hard surface. Waterways Ireland asserted their construction methods would not damage roots, opponents of their plan differed.  Waterways Ireland has appealed the councils’ refusal to An Bord Pleanála.

However, recently Waterways Ireland clear-felled hundreds of trees along a stretch of the Barrow in Carlow.  In a statement of apology published in the Carlow Nationalist, Waterways Ireland admitted that the work was carried out without taking the steps required by law. These steps are to prepare a habitat directive statement, in consultation with the National Parks and Wildlife Service. Waterways Ireland failed to follow this procedure.

It is very hard not to believe that Waterways Ireland removed the trees to remove a key argument against installing their hard surface.

Butterfly Conservation Ireland has written to Carlow County Council and An Bord Pleanála to notify them of the damage and ask what action will be taken. Butterfly Conservation Ireland also wrote to the National Parks and Wildlife Service asking what steps do the National Parks and Wildlife Service intend to take given Waterways Ireland’s failure to adhere to their obligations under the provisions of the European Communities (Birds and Natural Habitats) Regulations 2011.

The Barrow waterway and wooded and grassy banks are local and national treasures. These are beautiful places to relax as well as holding great habitats. The habitats are, in several areas, very rich in butterfly and moth populations. Well over a hundred of our larger moth species breed on trees as do three of our butterflies, the Brimstone, Brown Hairstreak and the Purple Hairstreak.  Several moths and butterflies breed on the wild grasses along this river and more breed on the herbs. In short, these are great places for man and nature.

Waterways Ireland claims in its defence that the tree-felling was done for maintenance of the hedge and tree-line. But the ‘maintenance’ consists of fully removing the trees. For photographs of the damage see: https://www.facebook.com/243758302774965/posts/543811886102937/

When Waterways Ireland cover the towpath with tar and chop down all remaining trees, the areas under their remit would in future be maintenance-free and fully pedestrianised.

Would even the publicity obsessive Partridge agree to present an advert for Waterways Ireland in these circumstances? Bizarre he is, but I doubt it.

The Fall and Fall of Grassland Butterflies

Ireland’s Grassland Butterflies in serious Decline.

Recently Butterfly Conservation Ireland made its submission to Heritage Ireland 2030, the Irish Government’s invitation for submissions to the National Heritage Plan. This plan will contain the “strategic priorities which will guide and inform the heritage sector for the next decade”.  If our natural heritage really is, using the words of the Government’s document, to be “valued and protected for future generations” and  “cherished and enjoyed” funded measures will be needed, especially to protect grassland butterflies.

Grassland butterflies are a key indicator of the condition of our grassland habitats. The All-Ireland Butterfly Atlas 2017-2021 will tell us a great deal about the status of Ireland’s grassland species and about all of our other butterflies. However, we know from experience and from the Ireland  Red List No. 4 Butterflies published in 2010 by the National Parks and Wildlife Service that there is a great crisis developing. Four of the six butterflies which are rated as threatened under the criteria developed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) are grassland species. Four of the five butterflies rated as Near Threatened are grassland butterflies.

The European Dimension

The decline in grassland butterflies is not restricted to Ireland. The European Grassland Butterfly Indicator 1990-2011 published by the European Environment Agency (EEA) in 2013 contains the disturbing finding that since 1990, the populations of grassland butterflies monitored across 19 European countries have declined by nearly 50%. Seventeen species were monitored. The monitored butterflies classed as widespread species that also occur here are Orange-tip, Small Copper, Common Blue, Wall Brown, Meadow Brown and Small Heath. The specialist species monitored that occur in Ireland are Dingy Skipper, Small Blue and Marsh Fritillary. Five of these species are ranked threatened or Near Threatened on the Ireland Red List.

The EEA report states two main reasons for the declines. These are agricultural intensification in the flatter, more fertile areas and abandonment of traditional farming in areas of lower fertility. Both of these factors apply in Ireland. In the fertile drier grasslands south of a line from Dundalk to Limerick intensification involving the use of fertilisers, herbicides, pesticides, re-seeding, ploughing of grasslands, drainage, hedgerow removal and the sinister destruction of remaining adjoining semi-natural grassland by spray-drift and nitrogen deposition from intensively farmed grassland. The nitrogen build up accelerates the growth of rank grasses and speeds up natural succession (scrub growth) cooling the micro-climate which delays or prevents larval development.

In the areas of poorer soils in western areas and on steep slopes where farming cannot be intensified farmers are abandoning the land which is reverting to scrub and eventually woodland. While there are butterfly winners in the changes to habitats, at least in the short and medium terms, the loss of habitat eliminates grassland butterflies, i.e. the majority of Ireland’s butterflies.

The EEA report offers solutions to the problems of intensification and abandonment. However, I believe that the solution offered to the massive biodiversity loss arising in intensively farmed areas is weak. It mentions the designated site network (sites designated as Special Areas of Conservation to protect certain species and habitats) avoiding fragmentation of habitats. Fragmentation means that disconnected habitats are increasingly distant from one another. As a result, the butterfly species that live on a site will become increasingly isolated from other individuals making recolonisation of a site where a population is lost (often by natural causes) impossible by the great distance between habitats. In this context, the report calls for conservation measures to take the wider landscape into account. What the report does not do is to offer ways of dealing with intensification itself even though intensive farming is clearly the destroyer of biodiversity in much of northern and western Europe.

The failure of the report to address this issue properly is a serious deficiency. It suggests a lack of interest in tackling this crisis. The issue of chemical inputs must be dealt with.  Furthermore, we are wasting vast amounts of food; maybe we are over-producing? Should some land be taken out of production? Or better still, managed in a traditional, pre-1970s fashion, to be gentler on our soils? We did not starve in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s when massive chemical inputs were not present. Neither did our wildlife lack space.

As far as abandonment is concerned, the report makes some useful recommendations involving funding low-intensity farming. While these make sense for such areas they do not deal with the problem in the main farmed landscapes. This will require changes in outlook, in the way farming is carried out in these areas and funding measures.

What you can do

One way of driving the pressure for conservation is to clarify the extent of the problem. We can do our part in Ireland by helping to monitor butterfly populations. The butterfly records you send to Butterfly Conservation Ireland will feed into this process. Please look at the information needed to provide a valid record and how to send a butterfly record here:

Records

With the records you send us, we can provide the information needed to contribute to the All-Ireland Butterfly Atlas in 2021. This information will also be important to update the Red List, up for review in 2020. We will use the data to press the Irish Government and EU to implement nature-friendly policies to ensure that our natural heritage is “valued and protected for future generations” as well as  “cherished and enjoyed” by us today.

You can also make your own submission to Heritage Ireland 2030 before the March 31st deadline. For details of how to make a submission see https://www.chg.gov.ie/heritage/heritageireland2030/.   We ask that you call for funding support for the butterfly monitoring schemes and for conservation-orientated landscape management programmes such as the programme used in the Burren (see http://burrenprogramme.com/the-programme/our-approach/ ) to be extended to other areas of High Nature Value farmland. Another submission that can be made is to call for habitat creation/restoration measures in areas of intensive farming and for research on the impact of farming chemicals on butterflies and other invertebrates.

The Future

Finally, considering the past helps to focus us on what kind of future there might be. As a child of the 1970s, I never imagined the day that I would have to travel several miles from my rural home to see a humble Small Heath butterfly or that the cheerful and familiar Wall Brown would ever become a rarity. What will a nature-loving child of today be saying about these two butterflies in twenty years?

Small Copper female. This lovely grassland butterfly is in decline throughout Europe, according to the European Grassland Butterfly Indicator 2013. Photo J.Harding.

Butterfly Conservation Ireland Lodges Objection to Proposed Solar Farm

Butterfly Conservation Ireland has lodged an objection to a planning application to build roads and other infrastructure to service a proposed solar farm on Drehid Bog, Timahoe, County Kildare.

While Butterfly Conservation Ireland does not object to the solar farm project itself, one of the proposed 5 metre wide roads is to be located on an existing track and an embankment that currently holds the site’s most important butterfly populations. The site is best-known by butterfly enthusiasts for holding the only known population of the Small Skipper butterfly. This butterfly breeds only on the embankment.

Some rare moths breed on this embankment. These include the day-flying Forester Moth rated “Endangered” and the day-flying Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnet which is rated as “Vulnerable” on the Ireland Red List No. 9 Macro-moths Lepidoptera published by the National Parks and Wildlife Service.

The embankment on which the proposed road is to be constructed also holds breeding populations of Brimstone, Cryptic Wood White, Large White, Green-veined  White, Orange-tip, Small Copper,  Common Blue, Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell, Red Admiral, Marsh Fritillary (rated as Vulnerable on the Ireland Red List No.4: Butterflies 2010), Speckled Wood, Meadow Brown, Ringlet and Small Heath  which is rated as “Near Threatened” on the Ireland Red List No.4: Butterflies 2010.  Any widening on the track that opens out onto the embankment will remove habitat for the Green Hairstreak and the Large Heath rated “Vulnerable” on Ireland Red List No.4: Butterflies 2010. The Environmental Impact Assessment Report (EIAR) submitted with the application does not refer to these species. Based on the EIAR submitted by the applicants and our records, Butterfly Conservation Ireland believes that a thorough study of the site’s Lepidoptera was not carried out.

Regarding birdlife, the red-listed Meadow Pipit and amber-listed Eurasian Skylark and Stonechat also breed on the embankment on which the access road is proposed to be built. A range of more common birds breeds on the embankment, particularly Grasshopper Warbler and Common Whitethroat. Unnecessary removal of habitat will impact on all these species.

There are many alternative locations on the bog for the proposed road. These will have much less impact on the site’s biodiversity. We are planning to meet with the consultants who prepared the EIAR to attempt to ensure that the area’s biodiversity does not suffer avoidable losses. We hope to be able to report a positive outcome.

Forester Moth, rated  “Endangered” breeds on the area earmarked for a road on Drehid Bog, County Kildare. Photo J.Harding.

 

Event Report

Butterfly Conservation Ireland’s first event of 2019 which took place on Saturday 16th February enjoyed the benefits of dry, mild breezy conditions at Lullybeg’s Crabtree Reserve. Our members took on a section on the southern end of the reserve where re-growth from a cutting that we made about four years ago was tackled.

This main habitats in the area are poor fen and dry/humid grassland. The fen area is rich in mosses and Ragged Robin, a lovely flower seen in bloom in early summer. The grassy areas are rich in fine grasses with a smaller area of dense, rough grassland containing Purple Moor-grass. Two years ago the Marsh Fritillary moved in to breed in this area. Small Heath favours the finer grassland. This humble little butterfly has been in decline on the reserve for the last five years so this action of restoring open grassland is a necessary step, along with the grazing on a section of the northern side of the reserve last autumn. The fortunes of the butterfly will be carefully monitored in the coming months.

We managed to cut down to ground level all the sprouting scrub, leaving open grassland. It was hard work and we stopped for lunch to relax and catch up on each other’s news and views. Conservation is a good social as well as physical activity! Over the flight season, a weekly count will be taken at the cleared section as it represents section one of the transect that is run on the site. A report of the effects of this management will appear later in 2019.

On behalf of all our members and supporters, a special thank you for all who worked so hard on the site. Nature will thank us too in the months ahead!

Small Heath, rated Near Threatened in Ireland. © J.Harding.
Small Heath larva in its fourth instar. © J.Harding.

RAINFOREST OBITUARY

The following article was written for Butterfly Conservation Ireland in 2016 by Adrian Hoskins, a professional photographer and author. It is reproduced here in full as a reminder of what is at stake, and of the changes we ask all who love nature to make.

Rainforest Obituary

Adrian Hoskins F.R.E.S. is a professional wildlife photographer and author of “Butterflies of the World” and “1000 Butterflies” (both published by Reed New Holland). He is also the creator of the website www.learnaboutbutterflies.com, was a former Conservation Officer of Butterfly Conservation Hampshire, and has organised and led over 50 butterfly photography tours to various parts of the tropics.

The incredibly beautiful and species-rich rainforests of the tropics are rapidly disappearing. Paradise is being replaced by palm oil plantations, soybean prairies and cattle ranches. The cloud forests are disappearing almost as quickly, replaced by coffee, tea, rubber and eucalyptus plantations.

Let’s look at Malaysia and its world famous national park Taman Negara. Here, myriads of male butterflies descend from the canopy where they spend most of their lives, attracted down to the ground to imbibe mineralised moisture. At these times it is common to see swarms comprised of hundreds of turquoise-banded Bluebottle butterflies Graphium sarpedon and dazzling Orange Gulls Appias nero imbibing mineralised moisture from river sandbanks. Numerous other beautiful species such as Cyrestis Mapwings, Spindasis Silverlines, Parthenos Clippers and Cirrochroa Yeoman butterflies can be also be found along the shores. On the opposite side of Malaysia, in the foothills of the Cameron Highlands, the huge and incredibly beautiful iridescent green and black Rajah Brooke’s Birdwing Trogonoptera brookiana can be found, often in groups of 30-40, visiting hot springs, from which the males obtain sulphur and other minerals that are essential for reproduction. Inside the forest, stunning long-tailed hairstreaks such as the orange and white Branded Imperial Eooxylides tharis can be seen.

Such places are paradise to the nature lover, but they are just tiny remnants of the vast rainforests that once covered Malaysia. Nowadays these miniscule islands of forest are surrounded by vast oil palm plantations that stretch to the horizon almost uninterrupted in every direction. It brings tears to my eyes to even think about it.

Why has this happened? The public and the politicians have been fooled. Many believe for example, that by becoming vegetarian, and using biofuel, they are helping to save animals and wildlife, but nothing could be further from the truth. As a consequence of vegetarianism, the rush towards biofuel, and the near-abandonment of animal products in cosmetics, manufacturing and other areas, millions of hectares of rainforest have been cut down or deliberately set on fire to clear them and make way for oil palm and other monocultures.

Can you imagine how much cloud forest has been destroyed purely to satisfy our desire to drink tea and coffee? Can you imagine how much rainforest has been destroyed to produce the biofuel you put in your car, the aluminium from which your car engine is constructed, or the soybean-based food products that you eat?

Worldwide it has been estimated that 50,000 square miles of rainforest is deforested each year. Every second a slice of rainforest the size of a football field is destroyed. Every day 86,400 football fields of rainforest are destroyed. Every year 31 million football fields of rainforest disappears from what we so selfishly call “our” planet.

Rainforests are home to over 50 percent of the world’s plant and animal life. They are home to somewhere in excess of 15,000 of the world’s 19,000 butterfly species.

What can we do to prevent or slow down this greatest of tragedies? Governments are gradually setting aside small areas as national nature reserves, and a few private conservationists are trying to protect intermediate wildlife corridors, mostly in the form of ecolodge properties. But these tiny areas are constantly eroded away by urban development, agriculture or plantation-forestry. In truth, the little patches that still exist will probably be little more than wildlife theme parks by the end of this century.

The problem is human population growth and affluence. There are more and more of us, and each year we become more and more greedy. Entire mountains are levelled in Papua to extract the copper we use in our electronic gadgets, the aluminium used to make our car engines and the gold that our countries horde in ridiculous quantities allegedly to safeguard our economies.

The great jungles that once covered Malaysia will be almost entirely gone within the next 2 decades, replaced by oil palm plantations. The rainforests and cloud forests of South America, Central Africa, Indonesia, Papua and Australia are all under similar or even greater threat of annihilation.

I was asked to produce this article to suggest ways in which members of Butterfly Conservation Ireland can help with the conservation of rainforests. The plain truth is that nothing short of a total change in the way we all live will save them. We are all extremely wasteful, consuming vast amounts of goods that we don’t really need, and throwing them away as soon as they become outdated. We buy teak and mahogany furniture without considering the birds, mammals and butterflies whose homes we are destroying. They can live nowhere else. Once the forests go, the wildlife goes and will be lost forever. Extinct, never to return. Just memories in the pages of an old and dusty book.

If we really, truly, want to protect rainforests and the glorious butterflies that live within them, donating money to conservation groups helps a little, but in reality, is nothing more than a way of making us feel slightly less guilty about the destruction wreaked by our way of life. We need to live simpler lives, buying only things that we genuinely need, rather than trying to have the latest car, TV, camera or other manufactured product. We need to return to growing our own food in our gardens rather than consuming fast food. We need to return to traditional farming and forestry practices. We need to drive far less, or use public transport, which is far more fuel efficient.

Above all we need to realise that human beings do not have the right to rape our planet and destroy other life forms. Humans have been on Earth for not much more than a million years. Butterflies were here almost 300 million years before we evolved from the apes. It would be nice to think that they would still be here long after the human race has wiped itself out, but we need to totally change the way we live if rainforest butterflies are to stand any chance of surviving into the next century.

 

 

 

Prophets of Doom

In the early years of the twentieth century, Romanian diplomat Take Ionescu warned German Foreign Minister Alfred von Kiderlen Wächter that German armament building would produce disaster: “You are rushing directly into war with England”. In 1914, the UK declared war on Germany.

In March 1919, even before the Versailles Treaty was signed, British Prime Minister David Lloyd George wrote (in his Fontainebleau Memorandum) that creating small states containing German-speaking people on Germany’s borders would produce trouble.  Hitler later invoked the principle of national self-determination enunciated at Versailles to claim Austria and Czech and Polish territory on the grounds that ethnic Germans resided there.

On the night the Titanic sank in April 1912, Jack Philips, the Titanic’s radio operator signalled other ships to stop sending ice-berg warnings.   Philips replied to a warning from Cyril Evans, wireless operator on The Californian: “Shut up. Shut up. I am busy”.

We have a history of ignoring warnings. History teaches us to heed warnings, but we continue to pretend that everything will work out, or will not happen, or will not happen to us.

On December 3rd 2018, some chilling warnings were given at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Poland. One warning was provided by the World Meteorological Organisation. The 20 warmest years on record have been in the last 22 years and the warmest four years have been the last four years. It was also announced that Carbon Dioxide (heavily linked with the rise in global temperatures) emissions are rising again. But the most frightening warning came from Sir David Attenborough:

“The collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon”.

We are looking at a rapid deterioration of our planet. We are consuming far too much. If we continue to pollute and exploit as we do now we will have done so much damage that life on earth will become impossible or very difficult within 100-150 years.  If every family on the planet consumed as much as the average Irish family, we would need the resources of three and a half planets to support these consumption levels (Revd Professor Michael Mullaney, Maynooth University).

The mass destruction, the rampant greed for more than we can ever need is a violating life on earth. What can mend that?

Conservation repairs our relationship with the natural world. Conservation of our natural heritage resources is the responsibility of everyone, not just professional conservationists.  Conservation can involve very elementary steps. Every time you see a new butterfly that developed in your garden take flight, you are part of the solution. Garden for nature by planting native plants and allowing them to grow as they do in the wild. Read good literature about how to manage wild spaces. Do not use chemicals in your garden.  Garden organically. Join a conservation organisation and get involved in its work.

We can be conservationists in our consumer choices. Buy what you need. Avoid excessive consumption. Steer clear of palm oil.  Rainforests and their inhabitants, people, plants and animals are destroyed to grow this crop. Make your purchases a moral choice. Governments must act too and will if enough pressure is applied. On your holidays, visit areas rich in wildlife. This encourages the preservation of such areas.

Unless we change our behaviour, we will all pay the price in the end. And so will our world.

The beautiful Garden Tiger moth is believed to be a victim of a warming climate. Its decline is being linked to milder winters, especially mild January weather. © J.Harding.
Desiccation of Common Hazel in the Burren following drought, July 1st 2018. © J.Harding.