Category Archives: butteflies

Securing the future of cider

Once-upon-a-time the countryside from Dorset to Herefordshire would have been filled with traditional orchards. The west country was at the heart of England’s status as an apple superpower. Orchards would have formed an important part of the fabric of rural life. And yet within a couple of generations orchards have almost disappeared from the countryside – statistics show that up to 90% of orchards have disappeared since the 1950s.

George Holmes, National Trust Area Ranger for South Somerset. Credit National Trust, Steven Haywood

Area Ranger George Holmes planting some of the Somerset cider apple varieties at Montacute House

Stumbling across an orchard is a little bit like finding a treasure chest. They’re places whose riches keep on giving whether with the arrival of spring and the blooming of the trees with the fragile flowers or the harvesting of the fruits in the golden glow of a warm autumnal day. These often small patches of land with knarled old trees are important havens for nature too – butterflies, bees, bats, birds see them as important food sources and wild flowers will carpet the orchard floors.

Orchards matter because of this rich cultural and natural heritage. There is an orchard near where I live, on the route up towards the summit of Solsbury Hill. It feels like a place untouched by the pace of modern life and I get a real sense of connection to the people that have loved and cherished this special place before me. The fruit trees come in all shapes and sizes and there is a slight wildness to the orchard, with its light-touch management. Wandering through this orchard always feels like a magical experience.

That is why the news that the National Trust has been given the national cider apple collection is so important. Over time 300 varieties of cider apple including Slack-ma-Girdle, Netherton Late Blower and Billy Down Pippin will be planted at eight places across the west country. It’s thanks to the vision and passion of Henry May that this collection exists at all and now the plan is to secure the future of these beautiful varieties and hopefully see them used by local cider-makers.

A countryside without orchards is unthinkable and the rise of community orchards, the work of organisations such as the Trust and People’s Trust for Endangered Species and growth of craft ciders, provides a hope that these fragile and wonderful places can survive.

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A nature diary with a twist

Welcome to 2016. Time for people to write their New Year’s Resolutions and tell the world about it. So, it would be rude not to join in.

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Writing a sentence of nature news gives you a chance to reflect on the changing of the seasons

Its always refreshing, I think, to look ahead to a new year and ponder some of the things that you’d like to do, or the challenges that you would like to set yourself. The papers are full of the big trends for 2016 and what you should be doing. Often, as we all know, these resolutions barely make it out of January.

This time last year I talked about the wild time memory box – something I’ll repeat this year. Its always good to capture those moments: watching a sparrowhawk hunt its prey or being amazed at the stars on the Isle of Wight, with the benefit of no street lights. And then at the end of the year you can spend time looking back on all of those amazing experiences.

For me personally I’m going to pen a nature diary with a difference. A few years back I set myself the goal of writing a diary about the natural world. Like all good intentions it started off well but gradually faded away once I got into February. I loved challenging myself to find the words to describe my experiences and feelings based on nature and the weather.

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A favourite walk could generate loads of memories

This time I’m going to write a sentence, or maybe a paragraph, about something I see or hear in the natural world each day. It could be the appearance of daffodils in the garden, the arrival of swifts or the gently fluttering of butterflies flying across the garden. Just penning the words will mean that I reflect on the nature that I’ve come across that day; adding new content to my nature memory bank.

Hopefully this bite sized nature journal will work for the whole of the year and lead to bigger and better things. Taking the time to connect with the natural world each and every day, where-ever you might be, is so important; at a time when most of us spend pretty much every waking moment staring at some sort of screen it does recharge the batteries or refresh the soul to look and listen.

 

 

 

Its time to save our butterflies

The world of butterflies in the UK has changed pretty drastically in my life time and not for the better.

adonis blue swellshill rodborough common 20 8 13 matthew oates

Adonis blue sparkle on a late summers day

Over the last 40 years 75% of resident and migratory species of butterflies have declined, according to a new report by Butterfly Conservation and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology. The abundance of these symbols of summer must have been a wonderful sight when I was born in the 1970s.

It really saddens me to think of this loss and what it says about the state of the natural environment. Finding places full of butterflies is becoming a rarity and when you do experience it, as I did on the Isle of Wight in September, it is a mind-blowing experience.

The cause of this dramatic fall in butterfly numbers is clear: an intensification of farming, habitat loss and a changing climate.

Butterflies are brilliant indicators of what is happening to the countryside and coast. And its not looking great.

I don’t want to be part of the generation who lets species of butterfly become extinct in this country. To see less of these little beauties on the wing from spring to autumn was be a massive loss for our quality of life in the UK.

Collard Hill

Things can change for the better as shown at Collard Hill in Somerset where the Large Blue was successfully re-introduced.

My kids love butterflies. Like so many children they are a great way into nature: watching them flutter by or landing on a flower. I remember the squeal of delight from my daughter when one landed on her hand when we were on holiday last year. And we’ll often see them fluttering across our garden on a sund-drenched day.

There is a need for all of us to shake off the complacency about nature. We can and must do something to reverse the fortunes of butterflies. If they continue to decline other species will suffer a similar fate.

Doing more to make our gardens more wildlife friendly and thinking about taking a landscape approach to nature conservation can help.

I don’t want my kids to grow up in a world where they miss the beauty and wonder of living with butterflies. It would make the world a poorer place and if we all do our bit now then things can change for the better but we must act before its too late.

A butterfly oasis

On the south west corner of the Isle of Wight is a butterfly oasis. Not since a trip to the Pyrenees in France four years ago have I seen so many butterflies in such a short space of time.

Yes on a lovely summers day and in the right spot you might see a pretty health number of these symbols of summer. But to be almost tripping over them and not knowing where to look as there are so many butterflies is a rarity.

Adonis blue sparkle on a late summers day

Adonis blue sparkle on a late summers day.         Photo: Matthew Oates

Walking up a chalky track which forms part of the Tennyson trail on a glorious September day I was blown away by this wonderful spectacle. The warmth of the day had created the perfect conditions for lots of zig-zagging butterflies flying across the track or those chilling out and soaking up the sun.

As we headed west towards Compton Down I caught sight of an Adonis blue, then a Common blue and to complete the trio a Chalkhill blue; all in a matter of minutes. Everywhere you looked there were butterflies.

Chalk downland is the perfect habitat for butterflies but you have to get the management right. Compton Down on the Isle of Wight is one of the top, if not the top, sites for butterflies that the National Trust looks after. Grazing the slopes, in this case using Galloway cattle, forms an important part of creating the perfect conditions for butterflies to flourish.

By the time we’d reached the top of Brook Down I felt slightly punch drunk with it all. This was the best butterflying that I’d done in the UK and all in barely twenty minutes. I can safely say that I’d walked through a wildlife paradise.