Conservation is a major part of our remit and 2015 saw important work. In November a work party cleared scrubby grassland at Lullybeg to create the conditions needed for the Marsh Fritillary. Our project site in the Burren at Fahee North also received attention with a scrub cutting day in September. A work party consisting of members of Butterfly Conservation Ireland and the Burrenbeo Trust Volunteers cleared Hazel scrub re-growth from an area of Marsh Fritillary habitat and opened up violets growing under very tall scrub to sunlight. Previously this area was heavily shaded and unsuitable for breeding. This work will continue in 2016.
Our recording scheme begun in 2013 continued in 2015; see http://www.butterflyconservation.ie/wordpress/?page_id=3842.Calls for conservation must be supported by good information which will help us to make the case for the conservation measures needed.
Conservation advice was also given to a number of individuals and bodies, such as the Burren Farming for Life Programme and the National Parks and Wildlife Service staff. One case in point concerns Pollardstown Fen, County Kildare where sheep grazing was proposed in 2014. We advocated cattle grazing given the problems that sheep cause on sites requiring a range of vegetation heights. BCI suggested a suitable livestock source and the grazing was put in place. We monitored the site during spring and summer and met NPWS staff on site in July to discuss the impact of grazing which appeared to be beneficial. The important Lepidoptera present, the Marsh Fritillary and Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnet appear to be benefiting. The cattle tackled coarse grasses and matted vegetation and poached the ground to create a more varied sward structure, removed smothering vegetation and created open areas and gaps, allowing for germination of butterfly host-plants. The grazing will be continued, probably year round, using a lower stocking rate. The BCI website was used to promote conservation throughout 2015. BCI continues to liaise with Waterways Ireland regarding habitats managed by Waterways Ireland, with submissions made concerning the management of the Grand Canal near Louisa Bridge, Co. Kildare and an area of the River Barrow south of Ballytiglea Bridge, Co. Carlow.
In September BCI was represented at the Wildlife Crime Conference in Ashbourne where a presentation on behalf of Ireland’s butterfly and moth populations and their habitats was made. The conference contained around 100 delegates and attendees. Jesmond Harding described the challenges faced: habitat destruction, insufficient designation of sites for the Marsh Fritillary and poor management which led to loss of the Marsh Fritillary from some of these sites, the need to retain the current closed season for hedge cutting and burning in upland areas, the need to enforce the protection of raised bog SAC’s, suggestions for dealing with offences against protected habitats and suggestions for improving notification of SAC notification. The presentation was later made available to all present.
In 2015 The Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht carried out a review of Section 40 of the Wildlife Acts that deals with the closed season for hedge cutting and scrub removal, currently March 1 to August 31. BCI recommended retention of the closed season.
Unfortunately Minister of the Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Heather Humphreys has ignored the advice of BCI and a number of conservation NGO’s and is proceeding with changes to allow hedge cutting in August (many moth larvae are feeding then; examples include Early Thorn, Lunar Thorn, Grey Dagger, Ingrailed Clay, Purple Clay, Grey Arches, Dot Moth etc) and burning of vegetation in upland areas into March in the Heritage Bill 2016. This is not in the interests of our wildlife. In this instance, the Minister has ignored the majority of the submissions made during the review and has behaved as if she was Minister for Agriculture. BCI has expressed its opposition to this alarming legislation directly to Minister Humphreys.
A changing countryside and a changing climate make our role in raising conservation issues ever more important. The needs of the nation’s farmers must be balanced with biodiversity needs. BCI will continue to champion the cause of our beautiful moth and butterfly heritage in 2016.