Butterflies of the North-West
Our speaker was Chris Winnick, Chair of the Cumbria branch of Butterfly Conservation, whose subject was the butterflies of the North-West. He began by explaining the organisation’s focus on habitat, monitoring and recording and then talked us through all the butterfly species found in his area of study, explaining how each was faring and giving us some insights into their lives. In many species, the male, which is the one we typically recognise, is very conspicuous, while the females need to be more discreet in order to hide from predators while laying their eggs. Fascinatingly, many butterflies live only a week or two as flying adults, and females can be mated within half an hour of emerging. This makes the stakes in these creatures’ lives terrifyingly high. Add to this the caterpillars’ dependence on very specific food plants and the scale of the problems facing them becomes clear.
Butterflies are the canary in the coalmine: they warn us of changes affecting their world, which of course is also ours. The damage done by the voracious Victorian and Edwardian collectors with their nets and killing jars pales into insignificance compared to the harm we do every day through our management of the countryside: over two thirds of butterfly species are in decline, some by 70 per cent in just 30 years. Maps showing relative distributions threw this fact into sharp focus. It is not just climate change: agricultural practices also have a bearing, and Chris urged us to be mindful of the high costs of cheaper food production.
Our next talk will be a two-parter on 8 November, when Tania St Pierre will talk about the Haytime Project in the Dales and John Altringham about action for wildlife in Nidderdale AONB.