Worcestershire Record No. 6 April 1999 p. 6


By Richard Southwell

Worcestershire are County Champions?

Richard Southwell has acted as stimulator and organiser for Butterfly Conservation's Millennium Atlas Project in the West Midlands His activities have inspired many people to record butterflies. We need one last great effort for Worcestershire to be the country champions!

The high reputation Worcestershire has for ecological awareness was in tatters after the first two seasons of the five year National Millennium Atlas butterfly recording project. Relegation threatened. However, since '96, there has been a transformation. Well over 50% of Butterfly Conservation's 87 Worcester members are now active recorders - if only we had greater numbers! Our efforts were then complemented by a good number of the Wildlife Trust's Reserve Wardens in '97 to be followed in '98 by some of the County Trust's leaders. At the tiine of writing I am still awaiting records from the Hindlip tetrad and no one has mentioned the existence of Hairstreaks at adjoining Lower Smite Farm - the WWT's headquarters! It is worth stating the initial inspiration for all this activity came from Patrick Taylor's Redditch recording group (see Worcestershire Record No 3, 1997) - brilliant stuff and many thanks Patrick.

Looking at the tetrad analysis it's amazing what can be achieved when the human species puts its mind to it. Worcester is now amongst the leaders in the Premier Division of recording alongside Cheshire, Hampshire, Surrey, Sussex and Warwickshire. Can we win the league at the last gasp by becoming the best recorded county? Of course we can!

To win we need your help NOW, in 1999, the last recording season.

Please consider recording in a couple of tetrads close to home or some other haunt you regularly visit, particularly if the species count is showing under 10 in the adjoining map. Well-covered tetrads (as in the Trench Wood area) showing over 20 species don't need any further data - do please consider the workload on our hard pressed data inputters. If you have a keen eye a tetrad only needs four visits spaced out during the flight period between April and July. The target is 15 species per tetrad,which is possible where the habitat is varied, but most unlikely where large-scale intensive agriculture is dominant.

Our membership, and records to date, are thinly spread west of Abberley and also in both SE and SW Worcestershire: we need all the records we can get from those areas. 

Target species

A second initiative focusing on the recording of four historically common species that require particular habitats should also raise the awareness of conservation needs. Joe Public seems to generally believe there is nothing they can do individually to help biodiversity. Not true - if you look for the following species within one mile of your front door I guarantee you will become aware of previously unknown habitat that then needs sympathetic management. I hope you will also become sufficiently motivated to encourage the landowner, whether it be farmer, property developer, industrialist or local council to protect this forgotten corner of land. Most times they are not aware of its existence and importance and appreciate people taking an interest. Some of our most active members are farmers, and yes,if you were wondering, they run profitable businesses. Also Butterfly Consevation's main sponsors include Land Rover, ICI and BP.

The four special species are :


On wing in APRIL, often earlier in mild weather (February and March this year!). Needs healthy hedgerows that include Buckthorn for the larvae.

Orange Tip

Flying in MAY. Another spring hedgerow species that thrives on the vital four-foot margin of land either side of hedges which should not be ploughed, sprayed or fertilised. Therefore fine grasses, herbs and wild flowers should be in abundance, but how often do you see such sights by the sides of fields or roadsides? Foodplants for the caterpillar are either Cuckoo Flower Cardamine pratensis (also called Lady's Smock ) or Jack-by-the-hedge Alliaria petiolata (also called Garlic Mustard). The eggs are bright orange and can be identified quite easily. If two or more eggs are laid on the same flower head one caterpillar eats the others as a flower will provide for one alone.

Small Heath

Flying in MAY. Found anywhere where fine-leaved grasses exist. Such habitat is becoming increasingly rare, and now what was once a common butterfly is now a rarity. It is therefore vital we have six figure grid references for this colonial butterfly's remaining sites. If you have the chance, do encourage landowners away from the increasing habit for excessive tidyness. I bet Eddy Grundy had Small Heath on his farm!

Common Blue

Flying in JUNE.. Its caterpillars eat Bird's-foot Trefoil Lotus corniculatus so this colonial butterfly should be found where this plant is abundant. Typical sites are quarries, wasteland and unfertilised, close-cropped grassland. The Common Blue is now no longer common and again we need six figure grid references. Don't confuse it with the Holly Blue which is more inclined to fly high above the ground and is often seen close to holly and ivy.

Butterflies are prime indicators of the health and condition of the countryside as suggested by the requirements of the four target species. If butterflies are living and breeding, the land will almost certainly be environmentally sound. However, they are highly sensitive to changes which are unsuitable or hostile to their life cycle needs. The loss of colonies or a reduction in their numbers is usually a reflection of urban, industrial or agricultural pressures. With a bit of forethought butterflies continued existence within this pressurised world we all live in, is quite possible and I for one am continually surprised and gladdened by landowner's interest and positive reactions to our suggestions, especially when they realise we are not a bunch of head-in-the-clouds idealists. Possessing nature reserves is all well and good but in the long run they have a patchy track record at conserving species effectively unless wildlife corridors exist that connect the reserves to each other. This is why recording at unattractive or unpromising locations is necessary - we really do need 100% area coverage of Worcestershire.

I hope the reader now appreciates why the Millennium Atlas is so important and how we can all have a practical and useful role to play in promoting biodiversity. Butterflies are perhaps one of the most easy and practical ways of starting out on this voyage of discovery. They are mainly attractive, usually easy to spot and only fly when the sun is out. My tip is to take a pocket sized identification book when on a walk plus have a stock of hand sized cardboard scribble pads in the car - I make mine from the backs of comflake packets. Butterflies are a vital cog in the balance of nature as a major food source for birds, andthey also act as a host to regulating parasites, but to conserve the range of local species we need to preserve a reasonable amount of the various habitat regimes. It is my hope that by recording you will appreciate the conservation issues, relay the message to decision-makers and maybe develop your interest in other flora and fauna. In my case I was given Mike Averill's book on Worcester Dragonflies as a Christmas present!

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