Butterflies in Cornish churchyards
For various reasons, Cornwall is not the best southern county for butterflies, but most species resident here are often found in large populations. This is frequently apparent in Cornish churchyards because a large proportion of them are, of necessity, maintained with limited funds. As a result, they retain a good quantity of semi-natural vegetation, especially around their perimeters. The grass is often allowed to grow well between occasional mowing, and herbicides are seldom used. As is made clear in the Butterfly Conservation pamphlet Discovering Butterflies in Churchyards, this is the best way to ensure that a churchyard becomes a mini nature reserve - and butterflies are good indicators of its quality.
Cornish churchyards may support around 20 butterfly species as residents when not heavily manicured, and these may be supplemented by migrants such as red admiral, painted lady and clouded yellow, as in 1996. Large and small whites are usually boosted by migration as well. Some red admirals may hibernate and be truly resident in Cornwall.
Usual residents in Cornish churchyards
(foods of caterpillars in brackets) are:
Skippers:large and small skippers (grasses).
Pierids: large, small and green-veined whites (crucifers); orange tip (crucifers) and brimstone (where alder buckthorn grows in the vicinity).
Lycaenids: holly blue (flower buds of holly, ivy, dogwood); common blue (bird's-foot trefoil) and small copper (docks and sorrels).
Nymphalids: peacock, red admiral, small tortoiseshell and, less often, comma (nettles).
Satyrids: these form the mainstay of churchyard butterflies and most, except July-flying ringlet, are adult for many months as a result of prolonged or successive broods, especially in a mild county like Cornwall; meadow brown, gatekeeper, ringlet and, especially numerous in Cornwall, speckled wood (on taller grasses); wall brown and small heath (where turf is short and dry).
In high summer, most of the butterflies listed will visit bramble blossom, where this plant is not regularly slashed down. Churchyard brambles may also attract the agile dark green and silver-washed fritillaries, both of which are still widespread in Cornwall. However, any churchyard that becomes the 'victim' of an excessively tidy-minded management will quickly lose its resident butterflies.
Reptile & Amphibian Group
Just a quick note to remind you that this group (CRAG) exists. Look out for herptile events (mainly Fox Club, but unaccompanied adults are welcome) in the diary. IÕd be delighted to hear from anyone with the time and enthusiasm to play an active part in surveying and conserving these creatures.
Wildlife Photography Group
Many thanks to David Chapman of the Wildlife Photography Group for lending us a set of excellent bird slides - more in the next issue. We're always keen to receive photos of species, habitats, events and people.
Starlings bathing. Photo: David Chapman
Recently I had a phone call about an outbreak of sarcoptic mange among foxes in the Truro area. There are stories of groups of foxes wandering about with little fur on them and looking very distressed.
How severe this outbreak is, how far it has or will spread, or what is going to be the effect on the fox population, we can only guess. We need a reliable database in order to monitor any changes brought about by such incidents.
One of the objects of the Mammal Group will be eventually to get an estimate of the numbers and distribution of all the mammal species in the county - an enormous task that will take an army of volunteers to achieve.
Clearly we shall have to start in a small way. A possible early target for our investigation will be the harvest mouse, a project I started last year. The water vole* is another species that is well worth looking for. Live trapping of small mammals to determine their distribution and density in a limited area is yet another possible project.
The more help we get, the more we can do. By the time you read this we hope to have had the first meeting of the Mammal Group. If you are interested, please contact me on (01726) 66647. You donÕt have to know anything. All you need is enthusiasm and a willingness to learn.
* See Water Volewatch on page 13.