Butterfly experts in flap over ‘extinct’ species in New Addington

The sighting at Hutchinson’s Bank at the weekend of a butterfly thought to have been extinct for nearly 100 years has put wildlife enthusiasts into a bit of a flap.

Spotted: Frank Gardner’s ‘trophy’ photo of the black-veined white butterfly at Hutchinsons Bank from Saturday

The sighting of the black-veined white butterfly was made by Frank Gardner, the BBC’s security correspondent and an amateur wildlife enthusiast, following a visit to the nature reserve near New Addington on Saturday.

The sighting – others on the same guided tour reported seeing multiple black-veined whites – was reported on BBC Breakfast News this morning and by The Times.

But some conservationists poured cold water on the species revival celebrations, suggesting that the black-veined whites had been captive-bred and “chucked out”, while also alleging that Hutchinson’s Bank has a “track record” for such dimly-regarded behaviour.

Hutchinson’s Bank, which is managed by the London Wildlife Trust, is a large area of secluded chalk grassland and woodland just a short walk from the New Addington tram stop. It has also benefited from the return of traditional sheep grazing. Supporting many rare plants and insects, it is noted for the presence of the very rare Glanville fritillary.

Hutchinsons Bank, which has been a nature reserve since a successful campaign supported by David Attenborough in the 1980s, had come under threat when Croydon Council’s Brick by Brick house-building company wanted to develop a site by the reserve’s entrance, a plan which was only finally dropped when the council crashed its finances and BxB became… well… extinct.

Gardner had lepidopterists across the country all a’flutter yesterday when he posted on social media, “A superb afternoon at [Hutchinson’s Bank] yesterday thanks to Leonard Spocking and Philip who helped me find the black-veined whites as well as adonis blue, small blue, grizzled skipper and others.”

Keen observer: Frank Gardner was out and about in New Addington at the weekend

Gardner later tweeted, a little apologetically, “OK, not the greatest photo but this is the incredibly rare black-veined white butterfly that has been officially extinct in Britain for 90 years.

“This week they’ve mysteriously appeared on the edge of London and no one knows where they’ve come from.”

Given the warm weekend weather, some suggested that perhaps the butterflies had arrived here from the continent, where they are still thriving.

Others, though, claimed that they did know where the extinct butterflies had come from.

Chris Corrigan is the interim chair of Sussex Wildlife Trust, and he tweeted, “Reintrioduction when properly planned is an important conservation tool. ‘Chucking out’ isn’t. Most fail, butterflies condemned to death, mask real trends, origin of stock and worse still create the impression that this can solve butterfly declines. Habitat is everything!”

Corrigan added that the practice of “chucking out”, where captive-bred butterflies are released into the wild “gets problematic” because it can be “conflated with nature restoration (it is nowhere near)”.

Wildlife haven: Hutchinson’s Bank is reclaimed chalk grassland that has been a reserve for 40 years

“Legitimate butterfly reintroductions have been done,” Corrigan wrote.

Previous attempts to reintroduce the black-veined white, or Aporia crataegi, to the downlands of southern England have been undertaken by no less a figure than Winston Churchill, who bred the butterflies at his country home Chartwell in the 1940s (like he had nothing better to do with his time…).

The insect, which has a wing span of about three inches and thrives in a warm environment with hawthorn and blackthorn trees, was wiped out in Britain by 1925 “because of changes in land usage and several years of wet and cold autumn weather”, according to a report in today’s Times.

Churchill’s attempt failed to take off after his gardener cut the cocoons from hawthorn bushes where they had been placed.

Today, another Gardner, Frank, more careful about natural habitat (he has appeared in previous series of BBC’s Springwatch), wrote that the black-veined whites, “could easily be mistaken for the common or garden cabbage white butterflies seen in Britain every summer”.

Small blue: another endangered butterfly species which can be found at Hutchinsons Bank

But he wrote, “There’s nothing common about the black-veined white on this side of the Channel.”

Gardner’s report confirms the captive-bred release theory. “The charity Butterfly Conservation, which monitors butterfly numbers in Britain, told the BBC the insects will have been released, but they don’t know by who or why.

“They added that while it’s lovely for people to be able to see them, it probably does not signify a spontaneous recovery of an extinct species.”

Read more: Charity concern as butterfly numbers fall to lowest level
Read more: Endangered butterfly ignored in Brick by Brick flats application

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3 Responses to Butterfly experts in flap over ‘extinct’ species in New Addington

  1. a plan which was only finally dropped when the council crashed its finances and BxB became… well… extinct.
    Priceless, just priceless!

  2. Hazel swain says:

    got small blues in my garden central croydon…

  3. Lewis White says:

    We in Croydon are blessed with having several extensive areas of rare, unspoilt chalk downland in the Borough and close by, — with a rich diversity of wildflowers and grasses, inseocts, including moths and butterflies, bees of many types, grasshoppers and others, plus birds that need extensive areas of untrampled grassland in which to nest and feed–notably the slylark, and kestrels, kites and even buzzards. Plus lizards and slow worms, and more.

    Hutchinson’s Bank and Happy Valley, Farthing Downs, Riddlesdown and the Croydon Airport grasslands are the main ones in Croydon, plus the Chipstead Valley alongside Banstead Woods, and Park Downs in nearby Chipstead. All , beautiful places too.

    All are similar, but also, unique, with differences of soil and aspect, and with some plants and other species present in some areas, but not in others.

    In common with many others, I have been very concerned and very sad to see such small numbers of insects on the wing this Spring. Numbers seem to have dropped massively this year– and along with them, the number of young birds, which feed on the insects.

    It is very worrying. Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring gave us warning of ecological collapse, some 50 years ago. This Spring has been eeerily silent, as a result of fewer birds and buzzing bees and other insects. Let’s hope that the ones we have find breeding this year is successful, but with a base of low numbers, it could take years to recover.

    It’s therefore very good to read Hazels’ post above- blue butterfiles in Central Croydon. Beautiful.

    The good news is that towns and suburbs, with their mix of gardens and trees amongst the bricks and mortar–and waste places where weeds (aka Wild flowers) grow ……… are in many cases richer than most areas of the countryside, in sources of nectar for bees and butterflies and other insects,

    The reason is simple– flowers !

    If everyone with a garden had a range of flowering shrubs, closen to have some that flower in Winter (such as Sarcococca) as well as spring flowering shrubs like Deutzia and Weigela, Summer flowers like Philadelphus and Roses, and Autumn flowerers, like the jewel-like (but hard to spell) Ceratostigma Willmottianum.

    Plus some herbacous plants like the many varieties of the true Geranium.

    In fact, anything that has flowers, with the one proviso that the flowers are “single” not “double”, as the bees can’t get into the latter.

    Anyone with a garden with a lawn can give nature a home, not only by planting flowering shrubs and herbaceous plants, but by devoting just part of the lawn to “no Mow may or “No Mow May to October”, in the form of “islands of long grass and flowers in their lawn”. Just remembering to cut and rake off the cut grass in Autumn.

    They– we– you–me — all will be rewarded not ony by the beauty of the wild flowers, but by the buzz of bees and the sight of butterflies, and , in the Autunmn, seed eating birds particularly the Goldfinch. They need our help.

    The enemy of wildlife is paving– the 100% paved-over front or back garden.
    Concrete, artificial grass, and paving all clearly have a role in landscaping the home, but if just 10% of a front garden is planted with flowering plants, that will give the bees food.

    10% for nature… that’s a modern day “tithe” we all need to fund ?

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