Time for some festive cheer. If you are still looking for that elusive last minute Xmas present why not treat yourself or others to some Brown Hairstreak beer. In celebration of finding eggs nearby (see last ebulletin), the Stables Farm Shop at Astwood Bank just outside Redditch is now stocking Brown Hairstreak Ale. The Thursday Streakers called in earlier this month to help launch the beer and Roger Wasley, editor of West Midlands Butterfly Conservation's regional magazine The Comma, was there to photograph local Hairstreak Champion Jenny Tonry, who found the first egg, toasting the continued success of the Brown Hairstreak with Shauna McKnight, the Farm Shop Manager (see below).
A story that was subsequently picked up by the Redditch papers. Gift packs of the beer are available and, for each bottle sold, a donation is made to Butterfly Conservation. If beer is not your thing, then the Wayside Farm Shop at Wickhamford also has new supplies of Hairstreak Jelly made from sloes picked by local Streakers back in the autumn - an ideal accompaniment to your Xmas dinner and definitely less food miles than cranberry sauce! Something else to look forward to in the immediate aftermath to Xmas, when all the beer has been drunk and your legs feel like a rather different kind of jelly, is our Brown Hairstreak egg count on Sun, 29th December meeting 10 am at Grafton Flyford church. This annual event, which traditionally offers mulled wine and mincepies to all who come along, has the added promise this year of Simon Primrose's homemade Sloe Gin and Vodka. If we don't see any double egg clusters in the morning, we shall certainly be seeing double in the afternoon! Do come along if you are free. We have permission to count the orchard that day which is quite a large area to cover so we will need plenty of egg spotters.
Actually, it has been interesting this year to find far more multiple eggs than usual. Brown Hairstreak eggs are generally laid singly but recent egg counts have produced lots more double, treble and even quadruple eggs. Also we have been finding far more eggs than usual on north-facing hedges. Generally, in the past, we have found that Brown Hairstreaks favour a southerly or easterly aspect for egglaying but for some reason this preference, while still apparent, is not so marked this year. More clearcut, and very good news, is that, where we have comparable data, the numbers of eggs we are finding is generally well up on the previous year. Our first egg count on the eastern and southern sides of Grafton Wood produced higher numbers on all three sections and it will be interesting to see if this trend continues when we return the weekend after Xmas. At Trench Wood NR, where Peter Seal and myself made a start back in November, the count is already up on last winter with still almost half the wood left to do. It is a similar story at Shurnock where Geoff Thompson has been going great guns and it already looks as if we will comfortably pass last year's total. Jenny Tonry and Paul Meers have been searching around Feckenham Wylde Moor, another Wildlife Trust reserve, and have found record numbers of eggs including several more doubles (see photo) and trebles.
The planting day at Bourne Close in November proved very successful and a more thorough egg search of the site produced over 20 eggs which is really encouraging. Over the past few weeks, the Thurs Streakers have made a number of farm visits finding eggs on all farms visited. We have been very heartened by the response from landowners who have been very receptive to some of the management suggestions we have made. As a result, we have been able to make very good use of some of the blackthorn plants left over from Bourne Close by passing them on to local farmers. Rob Havard at Phepson Farm has already used some to plant up a field corner (see photo) while Tom Edwards at Shurnock has agreed to us planting blackthorn where there are gaps in some of his hedgerows, as well as coppicing a section of overgrown blackthorn on Wheating Hill which we hope to tackle early in the New Year (more on this later). All this, has meant that the Thurs Streakers have not really had a chance to hunt for eggs along the Hairstreak Trail, which remains on our agenda, beyond a short section from Grafton Church down to Huddington Lane where Simon Primrose and myself found a few eggs last month.
It is still unclear what the recent reforms of the EU Common Agricultural Policy will ultimately mean for wildlife but the response of the UK government has been disappointing. The reforms did allow for some flexibility amongst Member States in the amount of money they can transfer between pillar 1 - which provides production subsidies to farmers and pillar 2 -which provides support for rural development such agri-environment schemes. Butterfly Conservation and many other wildlife charities believed that it was vital to switch the full 15% allowable into rural development and provide continuing support to agri-environment schemes that have helped encourage more wildlife-friendly farming. However, the Secretary of State for the Environment, Owen Patterson, has decided only to transfer initially 12% of payments into Pillar 2 for rural development and environment although there is a stated intention for Defra to transfer the full 15% in future years. Given the huge loss of biodiversity that shows little sign of reducing, especially on farmland, it is very disappointing that the Government has decided not to fully grasp the opportunity provided. West Midlands Butterfly Conservation has worked closely with Natural England locally to develop good options within both Higher and Entry Level Stewardship that have brought real benefits to the Brown Hairstreak and other hedgerow wildlife but much more needs to be done. For those interested in finding out more, a more detailed response to Defra’s consultation by Wildlife and Countryside Link can be seen here and also see the Butterfly Conservation national website
A very happy Xmas to one and all and look forward to seeing some of you on 29th.
Brown Hairstreak Species Champion,
West Midlands Butterfly Conservation