Butterfly Conservation Day

28th June 2005

The weather was perfect – sunshine and not a breath of wind – when Tom Prescott from Butterfly Conservation Scotland and Helen Bibby from the Scottish Agricultural College in Oban welcomed over 60 people to Lismore to speak about the plight of the Marsh Fritillary, which he called Lismore’s special resident. Enthusiasts had come from many places including Appin, Oban, Kerrera and Luing.

The Marsh Fritillary was once widespread in Britain and Ireland but is thought to be declining at about 10% per decade with an identical decline in Europe. However, Argyll and the Argyll islands now hold some of the most significant populations in Europe several of which are on Lismore. Tom’s knowledge and enthusiasm were infectious as he told us of the life cycle of this attractive species which is on the wing from the end of May, and whose caterpillars live communally, protected inside conspicuous webs on their sole food the Devil’s-bit Scabious. Because the butterfly is only found where its food is abundant, usually on damp grassland or open moorland, it is important that these sites are grazed, ideally by cattle to retain and promote the scabious. Helen then spoke about the schemes available to farmers and crofters to encourage habitat management that favours the Marsh Fritillary. We were also urged to monitor the species at all stages of its development so that accurate records of its progress can be kept.

In the afternoon we visited a meadow on Julian and Carol's croft which was full of wild flowers, butterflies and moths and were able to see the Marsh Fritillary in flight despite this being the end of its flying season. We ended the afternoon with a ramble round Salen looking for beach dwelling species.

Tom hopes that as many people as possible in Argyll and the islands will become aware of this special resident and perhaps join Butterfly Conservation Scotland as butterflies are a vital indicator of the biodiversity of an area. He also visited the school and fascinated the children with his collection of sleepy moths he had trapped overnight. Their support is key to the butterfly’s survival.

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