Monday, 14 September 2009

A butterfly success story

The continuing amenable weather is good for our butterflies, I'm seeing quite a few in the garden and elsewhere locally but no species that unusual it has to be said. However one particular spot in the south west has reported a good season for the sadly now rare pearl bordered and small pearl bordered fritillaries. The location I am referring to is the Marsland Nature Reserve where Devon meets Cornwall on the north coast. I think that the reserve straddles both sides of the stream that forms the county boundary here but it appears that it is the Devon Wildlife Trust that is responsible for it. The DWT has an excellent website and so far as its reserves are concerned it has a map of Devon with all the reserves named and with dots to indicate their locations. Click on the relevant dot and a new window opens relating to that particular reserve - the one for Marsland can be viewed here. A very good arrangement I have to say.

It is good to know that numbers of these two rare fritillaries are increasing here through careful management. Not only are these two species evidently thriving but the site has recorded some 34 species of butterfly in total. I find it interesting to see the way wildlife has redistributed itself in the short period of my lifetime. On the one hand nature has had to find new homes because of (a) loss of habitat as more and more of our land is paved over by roads, airports, housing, retail and industrial developments and (b) farming has become more intensive generally. On the credit side, if you will, organisations such as the County Wildlife Trusts, National Trust, RSPB, Woodland Trust and others have increased both their expertise and the size of their holdings so that specific species can recover their numbers to a degree, as with the previously mentioned butterflies at Marsland. One mustn't forget that much maligned government department DEFRA is playing its part too in encouraging farmers to participate in various environmental schemes. Another aspect of all this is the way many of us have altered the way we use our gardens. I've seen old photographs of this small terrace of Cornish cottages with their large gardens totally given over to growing vegetables it would seem because there isn't a tree or bush in sight. Very different today with quite a wooded feel to the gardens. It's not just village gardens either: I can think of a steep sided valley in this Parish whose west facing slope was once a mass of market gardens growing principally daffodils and strawberries. Now abandoned for horticulture the land has reverted to woodland.

Here is a point to ponder then - we are now more reliant on imported food than when I was a boy, and that is worrying on a number of levels. But it could be argued that some gardens with their shrubberies and folk putting up bird feeders have become more wildlife friendly in recent years. And is the change from market gardens to woodland that I have just written about a plus for wildlife worth having? I certainly recall the pleasure of walking this woodland in the middle of the day and seeing a tawny owl sat on a branch. What I'm trying to say (I think) is that while population growth will inevitably increase the pressure on wildlife it may not all be bad news for nature.

Just a brief comment on Marsland Mouth to round off this entry: well it's quite some time since I've visited that area but it has that magic of seemingly being much as it must have been half a century ago. That part of my peninsula still feels incredibly remote, the two nearby villages of Morwenstow (of Reverend Hawker fame) and Welcome appear not much bigger than hamlets. One last point - the rugged coast here faces almost due west so with the better visibility and brighter skies of recent days there should have been really good sunsets to be seen over the sea.

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