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Conservation News

Fahee North Conservation Project

Fahee North near Carron in County Clare contains one of the richest butterfly sites in Ireland with some of our most range-limited and threatened species breeding here. All four Irish Fritillaries breed here as does the Dingy Skipper, Wood White, Brown Hairstreak, Grayling, Wall, Small Heath, Transparent Burnet, Wood Tiger and a large number of commoner species. The site is especially rich because it contains a mosaic of high quality habitat types including open limestone pavement, scrubby pavement, wetland, heath, limestone grassland, hedgerow and scrub. The close proximity of a close cropped sward and an ungrazed sward adds to the range of species found here.

The challenge lies in the encroachment by scrub on the ungrazed area. It is important to retain some scrub and high sward but without some management the site will become dominated by scrub. In conjunction with the Burrenbeo Trust Butterfly Conservation Ireland has held 2 scrub clearing days to cut back Hazel/Hawthorn scrub. One more day is planned to take place in February 2011 before the March 1st deadline. The excellent work carried out to date will ensure that this part of the site will continue to be rich in rare and diverse lepidoptera.

Butterfly Red List Published

With continuing declines in a number of our butterfly species concern arose that this decline lacked clear definition. An expert group consisting of Eugenie Regan, Brian Nelson, Bob Aldwell, C. Bertrand,  Ken Bond, Jesmond Harding [Butterfly Conservation Ireland], David Nash, David Nixon and Chris Wilson met and evaluated the conservation status of all of our resident species [excluding the three newest species] and three regular migrants using the International Union for the Conservation of Nature [IUCN] regional criteria.

The findings are quite disturbing. Eighteen percent of the native Irish butterfly fauna is under threat of extinction and a further 15% is Near Threatened. One species is extinct [Small Mountain Ringlet], 6 are Endangered or Vulnerable and 5 are Near Threatened. The factor causing this situation of population declines and range reductions is mainly decline in habitat quality [and in the view of this author, habitat loss].

The 6 threatened species and the threat category assigned to each are:

Pearl-bordered Fritillary [Boloria euphrosyne]-Endangered

Small Blue [Cupido minimus]-Endangered

Wall [Lasiomata megera]-Endangered

Dark Green Fritillary [Argynnis aglaja]-Vulnerable

Large Heath [Coenonympha tullia]-Vulnerable

Marsh Fritillary [Euphydryas aurinia]-Vulnerable

The 5 Near Threatened species are:

Dingy Skipper [Erynnis tages]

Hedge Brown/Gatekeeper [Pyronia tithonus]

Grayling [Hipparchia semele]

Small Heath [Coenonympha pamphilus]

Wood White [Leptidea sinapis]

Now that there is official acknowledgement of the species under threat it is important that the state manages the lands in reserves and national parks in ways that safeguard our most threatened species. The record of losses of butterflies from nature reserves and national parks in Britain is hugely disappointing and has often resulted from passive management. In Ireland we at least have examples from Britain of what not do to. One lesson that must be assimilated is that in many cases conservation is an active process. Unless the traditional land management practices that gave rise to a rich environment are implemented we may lose our most threatened species.

The list will be re-visited in the future to determine what changes have taken place in the status of our butterflies.

Thanks are due to all who gave their time and expertise to the compilation of the Red List especially to Brian Nelson and Eugenie Regan who helped to drive the process. Full details of the Red List can be found on the National Parks &Wildlife Service website.

Marsh Fritillary Training Day

On August 21st Jesmond Harding gave a talk on the Lullybeg Reserve to a group of 25 volunteers on identifying Marsh Fritillary larval webs. Webs were located; plants and situations most favoured for breeding shown and then volunteers were let loose to find webs which they managed very well. Brian Nelson and Eugenie Regan explained the methodology for recording the webs and for describing Marsh Fritillary breeding sites. The data gathered by volunteers will be used to monitor the only Irish butterfly to enjoy some legal protection.

Legal Measures Sought to Protect Rarest Moths and Butterflies

Butterfly Conservation Ireland is concerned at reports that collectors mainly from overseas have been taking a large number of our rarest moth species to gain a unique series for collection and/or sale. There are some Irish lepidoptera species that have a unique coloration and some of these species do not occur in Britain. Unfortunately this makes these desirable to a small but determined group of people. While it is difficult to determine the extent of what is a clandestine activity there is anecdotal and internet–based evidence that the practice is taking place. Accordingly Butterfly Conservation Ireland decided at its AGM to seek to have rare species at risk of collection added to those protected under Section 23 of The Wildlife Acts 1976/2000.The effect of this protection would be to make the removal of any individual lepidoptera on the list unlawful except for scientific purposes under licence from NPWS. There are currently no lepidoptera protected under this section. Following a meeting with Brian Nelson and Gerry Leckey criteria for selecting the species in need of protection were considered and moth experts including Butterfly Conservation Ireland’s Philip Strickland and Angus Tyner, Ken Bond and Ralph Sheppard of ‘mothsireland’ were consulted. The species that emerged are:

Irish Annulet (Odontognophus dumetata ssp hibernica)

White Prominent (Leucodonta bicoloria)

Portland Moth [Actebia praecox]

Sandhill Rustic [Luperina nickerlii ssp. knilli]

Burren Green (Calamia tridens ssp occidentalis)

Pearl-bordered Fritillary [Boloria euphrosyne].

The process is ongoing and a report will issue when the conclusion is reached.

Ken Bond