Conserving Butterflies

"We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”

Maya Angelou

      • "This may not be the sexiest place to choose for a day out, but at the peak time of metamorphosis visitors become one with the wonders of nature just as they do on an East African safari".

David Wheeler, site manager, talking to a group of children at the Welsh National Nature Reserve of Rhos Lawr-Cwrt

David's message was that if we can't protect the butterflies of this tiny Welsh microcosm of planet Earth there is no hope for humanity ever living in a stable equilibrium with non-human species.

This wiki was initiated through the work of David Wheeler who was the first to produce a professional conservation management plan for a butterfly, the rare Marsh Fritillary, that was based on the best professional format first promoted by the British Nature Conservancy Council. He began this work on the Welsh National Nature Reserve of Rhos Lawr-Cwrt in 1991. His aim was to understand, protect and expand the biodiversity of a nondescript collection of marshy fields, the relic of an ancient Welsh pastoral system, which was home to an amazing annual flight of a once common butterfly. His plan, developed over the next 23 years, has been used by the Conservation Management System Consortium for training countless wildlife managers in the United Kingdom and the wider world in the principles and practice of creating and operating wildlife management plans. His research into environmental management was also used as an introduction to making plans as part of the SCAN schools climate change network of the National Museum of Wales at Cardiff.

Rhos Lawr-Cwrt: a special place

The following poem was written by a primary school student after a visit to Rhos Lawr-Cwrt

Emerging from a wettish wilderness

Encased in cobwebs

The fritillaries come

In clouds of sparky colour

Protected by people

Who are

Kind to lesser creatures

Worth as much

Or more than we.

The object of this wiki is to use the biodiversity of butterflies as a 'educational gateway-concept' into the global world of conservation management. This involves making connections and transitions between, and within traditional educational silos by highlighting examples of ecological art, literature and science. It is part of a cross-curricular framework linking culture and ecology , which encourages people to become cosmopolitan citizens by seeking wonders in nature.

The fritillary's year

A Commonwealth of Nature

To be at one with the wonders of nature means defining nature as commonwealth. That is to say using the noun 'commonwealth' to mean "public welfare; general good or advantage". The use of commonwealth in this way dates from the 15th century. The original phrase "the common-wealth" or "the common/public weal" comes from the old meaning of "wealth", which is "well-being", and is itself a loose translation of the Latin res publica (republic). The term literally meant "common well being". It was only In the 17th century that the definition of "commonwealth" expanded from its original sense of "public welfare" to mean "a state in which the supreme power is vested in the people; a republic or democratic state". These days we define the commonwealth of nature as the ecosystem services which are indispensable to the well-being of all people in all places.

The commonwealth of nature is therefore the well being that people obtain from ecosystems, including food, natural fibres, a steady supply of clean water, regulation of pests and diseases, medicinal substances, recreation, and protection from natural hazards such as floods. Human well-being therefore consists of security, the basic materials for a viable livelihood (food, shelter, clothing, energy, etc., or the income necessary to purchase them), freedom and choice, good health, and good social-cultural relations. Links exist in both directions between the flow of ecosystem services and the level of human well-being. These linkages can be illustrated at all scales, from local to global; in all places in the world, from the least to the most developed; and for all peoples, from the poorest to the wealthiest and the rural to the urban and industrialized. There are important issues of equity involved: Who experiences the gains and losses in ecosystem services under conditions of ecosystem change? How are the services and well-being distributed across space and/or time? These issues can only be satisfactorily resolved by adopting a comprehensive approach to development that simultaneously considers ecological, social, and economic outcomes, balance the interests of all affected groups, as well as the benefits in the present against the options that will be available to future generations.

Despite their obvious importance, ecosystem services are in decline in many places around the world. Sometimes, the loss may be too gradual to be noticed, or may be compensated by increases in other services, such as food supply. In other cases, the loss of services is borne by people other than those causing the decline. A special case of the latter occurs when future generations bear the loss, while current generations reap the benefits.

Where the link between ecosystem services and human well-being is clear and immediate, affected people are more likely to develop regulatory and managerial institutions to ensure the continued supply of services. In some situations, though, the flow of services may be appropriated by more powerful groups. Also, if the link is obscured, ecosystem services may be undervalued and a severe loss of service can then result. Common reasons for the link not being apparent to all parties include:

  • slow feedbacks (effects are felt long after the causes have taken place);
  • displacement in space (effects are felt far from the cause);
  • or displacement in social class (effects are principally felt by people without power).

The relationship between ecosystem services and human well-being can take on several different forms.

Often, rising incomes are initially accompanied by declines in some ecosystem services. Once a sufficient level of wealth is achieved, societal priorities may emphasize the quality of the environment and the services it delivers. In other situations, there is no evidence for such a turn-around, and some services may decline continuously with increasing wealth. In yet other places, a particular service may improve continuously in tandem with increasing wealth. It is important to note that human well being is not equated with wealth; wealth is simply one important and frequently measured component of well-being.

In places where there are no other social safety nets, diminished human well-being tends to increase the immediate dependence on ecosystem services. The resultant additional pressure can damage the capacity of those local ecosystems to deliver services, and this capacity can decline to such a degree that the probability of disaster or conflict increases. The non-linear nature of the links between humans and the rest of nature and of the functional relationship between them, means that there are some ecosystem damage thresholds that, if crossed, may prove to be irreversible. In this important respect, the future of the commonwealth of nature is rarely a simple linear extrapolation of recent trends or current conditions.

A Commonwealth of Butterflies

The butterfly is a multicultural symbol of nature's commonwealth which is also a metaphor for the wonderous beauty of Nature. The wispy, delicate nature of butterflies is part of their charm.

Butterflies appear in numerous examples of environmental art in many artistic styles. Butterflies are included as elements of these scenes because they most effectively represent all positive characteristics of Nature. This is because in all their ephemeral guises, butterflies are a source of wonder and many cultures have given them a special significance, as a symbols for varied belief systems. Many similar myths about butterflies have arisen in very different cultures that are representative of renewal, transformation, death, and rebirth or resurrection, awakening, consciousness, courage, love, joy, and hope. Their infinitely varied patterns have inspired artists for many centuries, and butterflies continue to appear in art, poetry, and myth; butterfly images have even become a major inspiration for art and design where they maintain an important presence in popular culture as symbols of continuity and resilience.

Simon Barnes, a reporter for the 'Independent' newspaper, thinks it’s a mistake to cite humanitarian aid as the only thing that counts in working for the common good after a disaster. In 2015 he described the work of 'Nature Iraq': the country’s leading conservation group founded in 2004. Now it is able to reflect the benefits its work has brought both to humans and to wildlife. He believes that conservation is one of the arts of peace. Preserving wildlife is important at all times and in all places; but when it comes to the healing of a shattered and broken country, just like an environment which is degraded by ignorance or the pursuit of monetary wealth, a butterfly has significance that towers above the short-term trivialities. In terms of public engagement, there’s a nationwide citizen science project in Iraq charting the distribution of butterflies. Thanks to the widespread use of smartphones, photographs of these insects are now flooding in to Nature Iraq, which has already identified four species new to the country. The organisation has set up a team of experts across the world, so that every species can be properly identified and mapped.

In the context of Iraq we need butterflies to remind us that positive change is possible, that there is magic in life, and that we have to be mindful of our surroundings. If we destroy nature, we destroy ourselves. In this context, butterflies awaken our spirits and open our hearts. They give us a sense of hope and the possibility of our own transformation and evolution. Barnes says it’s important to know the location of troops in times of war; and it’s important to know the location of butterflies if times of peace are ever to be appreciated.

"You can’t solve a terrible situation just by stopping things getting worse: you also need to show that there’s a way of making things better. And part of rebuilding a country hammered by war is to re-establish contact with its wildlife and to look after and cherish such wildlife as remains – not just for its own sake, but because it’s a powerful symbol of the need to reclaim the country for its people, and heal it. Such projects have the vividness of a New Year’s resolution: a new start, one in which better things will surely be possible. Hope comes in a butterfly; in an eastern rock nuthatch; in the flora of a mountain; in people dedicated to looking after them all."

This message of hope was promulgated by Leonard Hugh Newman, (3 February 1909 - 23 January 1993) always known as L. Hugh Newman, a British entomologist, author and broadcaster. He wrote many popular books on insects, especially butterflies and moths. With the media naturalists Peter Scott and James Fisher, he was a resident member of the team who presented "Nature Parliament" on BBC radio's Children's Hour in the decade after the 2nd World War. He ran a butterfly farm in Kent supplying living material to among others Sir Winston Churchill, who bought many butterflies for his house at Chartwell. Similar messages through marketing butterflies are being packaged today. For example, Kipepeo (Swahili for butterfly) is a community based enterprise that supports the livelihoods of people living around Arabuko Sokoke forest in coastal Kenya, East Africa. This provides an incentive for their participation in the conservation of a forest with high biodiversity and endemism. Kipepeo seeks to demonstrate the tangible link between conservation and well being.

Kipepeo currently sells butterfly and moth pupae and other live insects as well as honey and silk cloth produced by the community. The pupae are exported and the live insects hatched and displayed in insect parks globally. As the market place for nature based products from the Arabuko Sokoke forest, Kipepeo coordinates production and sales, and ensures thorough training and monitoring that the insects are bred and raised on-farm in a sustainable manner from wild parent stock. They also sell butterflies from other Kenyan forests. Profit from the sale of Kipepeo products contributes directly to the conservation of critical local natural heritage for future generations. More than half of the 263 butterfly species known from the Kenyan coast have been recorded in the forest, of which Acraea matuapa, Charaxes blanda kenyae, Baliochila latimarginata and Baliochila stygia are endemic. Some taxa in the group have potential to be used as ecological indicators, which can complement the information already used for the birds.