Tuesday 30 June 2009

The Big Biodiversity Butterfly Count

The Big Biodiversity Butterfly Count is a fantastic event that takes place between Saturday 4 July and Sunday 12 July. It aims to do what the name implies – to encourage people to engage in the identification and counting of butterflies in Brighton and Hove. To take part, you can pick up a butterfly identification guide and recording form at any library in Brighton & Hove or follow the link on the Big Biodiversity Butterfly Count web site.

Butterflies are easy to identify and are sensitive to changes in their habitat. They are, in most of their characteristics, typical insects, and the impact of environmental changes on butterflies is probably similar to the effects on many other insects. So by counting butterfly numbers we have a measure by which we can easily monitor the rest of biodiversity.

Much of this information you can pick up from the BBBC web site, but I also asked Dr Dan Danahar, who is leading this project, for some further information for me to post on my blog. I expected something about butterflies and just how nice they are. What I received was an excellent articulation of nature conservation philosophy! So rather than plagiarise it and claim the credit, I thought I’d quote it directly – so here it is…..

If you were born during the 1950's you belong to the first generation of human beings to see the world population double during your own lifespan, which is of course part of the exponential growth pattern currently happening to the human population.

Of course if you were born in the fifties, many of you will be coming up for retirement soon and will have had a pretty good life, if you lived in the west. As it currently stands 6.5 Billion people live on the planet and it is estimated that global human population will plateau at between 8 & 10 Billion by 2050. This is rather worrying when you consider that most young people know no other life than one of consumption, utilising natural resources at an ever increasing rate.

Since around 68% of the worlds terrestrial ecosystems have already been damaged by human activity, and around 75% of our marine fisheries are unsustainably harvested, only a small proportion of the earths natural ecosystems remain intact. As we destroy more and more of the worlds natural ecosystems so we also degrade the invisible environmental services that they supply, free of charge.

Ultimately this can lead to one of two possible scenarios. Either keystone species will become extinct and the planet will suffer ecosystem collapse and the sixth mass extinction or the earths biodiversity will become increasingly impoverished, so that when you travel from one part of the planet to another you will only ever see the same species of animal and plant, the weeds that can cope with what humans do to their environment.

So, one of the reasons why we are running the BBBC is to encourage people to become interested in biodiversity, wildlife, to make them bio-literate because we believe that we all need to be as aware of our local biodiversity as stock brokers are aware of the stocks and shares on the stock exchange.

We hope that by looking people will become involved in the fascinatingly complex life histories of our local natural history. We hope that people will learn to value biodiversity.

Let me put it another way:

TRY NOT TO READ THESE WORDS. Of course this is a paradox - as soon as you have read them its too late, because you had to read the instruction to be able to realise you weren't meant to read them. If you can read it is impossible to look at any words with out comprehending their meaning.

So what if it was in some other language that you can't read, like Chinese? Then the information would be concealed until you became familiar with Chinese. Reading the natural world is pretty much the same thing, we have become so unattached to our local environment that we no longer have any real sense of how to read it.

Becoming familiar with local biodiversity is rather like learning to read. So, if you are new at this, the BBBC is like your first reading lesson. Your ABC to Biodiversity if you like. If you can't, read how can you be adequately informed about what's happening in your world?

Of course it’s also true that butterflies are great indicators of environmental change because they are easy to identify, there are currently only 45 species in the Sussex. They are sensitive creatures to, dependent on subtle changes in microclimate, habitat structure, etc., as are most insects.

So by identifying and recording butterflies we hope to make two gains:

1) increased knowledge about year on year changes in our local environment and

2) an increasingly bio-literate populace, a community that values the natural world more that it currently does."

Well done Dan!! Butterflies are nice to look at and a world with them is far better than a world without them. But we all need reminding now and then about the deeper need for nature conservation and the need to re-engage with the natural world.


Unknown said...

A friend of mine has been monitoring the butterfly sightings in one particular lane in our area, for about the past 5-8 years? He sends his report off to the BBCS for their information. I was wondering if the SWT would be interested in his reports, in which case I could ask if he would be prepared to send you copies - I feel sure he would as he is a countryman at heart and is concerned as the rest of us about the unstable nature of our ecology at present. Please contact me if you wish me to speak to him. He does not have a computer, but is on the phone.

Tony Whitbread said...

Thank you "whiterabbit", I'll respond to your comment, but sorry for the delay - my blog user skills are miniscule so I've only just worked out how to leave a comment on my own blog!
To answer - yes, very many thanks, if you have butterfly data then we would be very interested. We run the Biodiversity Record Centre from here and they collate all sorts of wildlife data. If you would like to help please contact Penny Green on pennygreen@sussewt.org.uk

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