The Decline of the British Butterfly

I have a fascination with most things, for as long as I can remember I have been interested in things. All sorts of things. When I was growing up that particularly focused on history, geography, museums of all shapes and sizes and natural history. I used to be able to recite and identify any dinosaur, bird, or constellation put in front of me, my knowledge of these things hasnt remained fully intact but I’m proud of the fact that once knew these kind of things. It’s interesting, now that I work in the digital humanities discipline with its feet firmly planted in both the science and humanities camps, I can see more and more why I fit in here. I was a mishmash of a child fascinated by everything and anything. I tried specialising in pure humanities, but I never felt totally comfortable, and I always enjoyed science, particularly as a little person, but never felt confident of my ability to understand it completely. Now, being able to work in both camps is brilliant, it opens up perspectives to things that I didn’t have the opportunity to consider when I was solely a humanist.

What’s this got to do with the decline of the British butterfly?

One summer, when I was about 10 I think, I became obsessed with butterflies, catching them and identifying them and attempting to understand the patterns on their wings. So I was particularly interested in an article I came across randomly in an old magazine in the local hairdressers. It was an interview with David Bellamy and he was enthusing about butterflies.
I tried to find the article online so I could link to it, but of course it’s in the Times Science Magazine, so the Eureka archive is trapped behind the paywall. Fail.

The article spoke about people’s favouritism of bees over butterflies due to their economic importance, and that everyone is aware of the decline of bees whereas no one is really that bothered about the significant decline of the butterfly. Are bees and butterflies polar opposites; bees are disciplined and industrious whereas butterflies are ‘creatures selected as the types of airiness and frivolity’ as Henry Walter Bates the 19th century naturalist, discoverer of mimicry and all round cool dude stated.

I find naturalists and antiquarians fascinating, because they are so inquisitive and engaged in their subject of choice, and they collect lots and lots of things. Walter Bates felt that butterflies would become one of the most important aspects of biological science, according to this article. This time is now.

In all ecosystems there are some organisms that are more sensitive to change than others: for example at Geevor due to all the mine drainage pollution there is a mosaic of natural and man-made habitats that has led to a colourful post-mining environment. There are a wide variety of weird and wonderful Lichens, which are a brilliant early warning indicator of pollution. But lets be honest if they disappeared normal people wouldn’t be that bothered. But what about the butterflies? What shocked me was that the article highlighted the 97% loss of mature grass meadows since the 1930s, that’s insane, and that has lead to more than three quarters of the 54 butterfly species resident in Britain to have declined in the past 20 years . The Guardian highlights the 12most threatened species.

However all is not lost! Butterfly world is here! The 27 acre site is designed in the shape of a giant butterfly’s head, with a 100m Biome (to be completed in autumn 2011) as its geodesic eye. Its like the Eden project for butterflies and its off the M25! Awesome.

I’m planning a trip to release my inner child naturalist.

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