Butterflies: A Very British Obsession Natural World


Butterflies: A Very British Obsession

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Britain's butterflies are amongst the most beautiful creatures on earth.

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Their beauty and miraculous life cycle has been an inspiration for hundreds of years,

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and for many people they are still an obsession.

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Reminds me of my very happy childhood.

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A free and happy time.

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They take you to the most special places.

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They are living spirits of beauty, fascination and wonder.

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Our love of butterflies spans generations, class, culture and creed.

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What is it about them that captures our imagination?

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And could they be more than frivolous objects of beauty?

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There's a growing belief that they may actually help preserve the landscapes that we love.

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But can a passion for butterflies really help save Britain's countryside for us all?

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Over 300 years ago, a British naturalist wrote, "You ask, what use are butterflies?

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I reply, "to adorn the world and delight the eyes.

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"To brighten the countryside like so many golden jewels."

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And he was right.

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Britain has an incredible variety of over 50 butterflies.

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Proud peacocks...

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..admirals...

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..and emperors.

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Iridescent blues...

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..delicate whites...

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..patchwork fritillaries...

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..and painted ladies.

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A search for butterflies will lead you to the most beautiful parts of Britain.

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The love butterflies have for our most beautiful landscapes appears to rival our own.

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It opens up an intriguing possibility.

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As the pressure on our countryside from development and intensive agriculture grows,

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could a passion for butterflies help preserve the landscapes that we love?

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Britain's passion for butterflies certainly has a long history.

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But it was the Victorians that took it most seriously.

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Loie Fuller was one of the most famous people in the world...

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..a music hall star whose butterfly dances wowed audiences at the Folies Bergere.

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She was amongst the first people ever captured on film.

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When it came to real butterflies, gentlemen took to the hills in pursuit,

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seeing the search as a route to spiritual and moral improvement.

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The most influential butterfly collector of them all was Lord Rothschild,

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a regular visitor to Buckingham Palace in his zebra-drawn carriage.

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His collections helped found London's Natural History Museum,

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and his collectors scoured the globe in search of rarities.

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Over 100 years later these enthusiasts are largely forgotten.

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But our passion for butterflies lives on.

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Matthew Oates is one of the country's leading butterfly experts.

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For most of the year he's the National Trust's head of butterfly conservation,

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but every summer he meets fellow enthusiast Neil Hulme for a spot of butterfly sport.

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He's good.

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He's very good. He's got something pretty lethal up his sleeve.

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Matthew's got a big, big reputation, but this stuff here, I've used this

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-to devastating effect so far this year.

-I'm more than ready.

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This is my secret weapon. He doesn't know I've got it.

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-I'm very ready.

-We'll have a drink together afterwards Definitely. He'll be paying.

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Game on!

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# Out in the midday sun! #

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High in the trees is the object of their affection, a beastly beauty,

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with habits almost as peculiar as their own, his imperial majesty, the purple emperor.

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I saw my first purple emperor 40 years ago. It changed my life.

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Like all emperors, they remain aloof, rarely descending to earth, unless you appeal to their beastly side.

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Critically, this butterfly does not visit flowers. Anything vile...

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Which explains the array of foul-smelling foodstuffs Matthew and Neil have proudly prepared.

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-Are you happy with that line?

-I'm happy with that line, yeah.

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So anything which lands within the baited area, two points.

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Those are the time-honoured rules and regulations.

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There's a tradition of people baiting for purple emperors which

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goes back at least 250 years, and they used to put out dead rabbits and other offal and carcasses.

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The great purple emperor collector IRP Heslop imported a trailer-load of fresh pig manure

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from Brigadier Fanshawe's pig farm and dumped that in the middle of a south Wiltshire wood.

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Did Heslop's mound of pig dung work?

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No it didn't, actually.

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THEY BOTH LAUGH

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Matthew and Neil meet here every year,

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proudly carrying on the traditions of those eccentric British naturalists.

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This is the time of year when I give up all of the serious

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sort of work that I do for butterfly conservation, and it's silly season.

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A little bit of the hau loc,

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and then I'm going to mix that with some of my Ghanaian shito.

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I'm going to try and counteract the effect of the hau loc, Vietnamese shrimp paste,

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by placing the delicious jellyfish slice.

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I'm just going to tip it out, because I think it's foul.

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There we go.

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Three emperors in the air together.

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Four, signal four. Hang on, the leader's a female.

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-Oh, it is!

-That's two males chasing a female.

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Ooh, she's receptive.

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-She's leading them on.

-She's leading them on. Ooh, the naughty girl!

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But that may well be a pairing about to occur.

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They must be smelling something.

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And that's why Matthew and Neil's bait works.

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These butterfly emperors must seek out and vigorously pursue

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every virgin female they find.

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But the secret to success lies in their unusual diet.

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In order to become virile, it's thought they must first drink an elixir of mineral salts,

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a love potion, which Matthew and Neil have spent years trying to perfect.

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Right, we've got one down.

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Matthew, it's virtually on the line.

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I think it's just on my side.

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His wing tip is on my side.

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I claim that, yes.

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Your pickled mudfish seems to, um...

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Pickled mudfish is picking up latterly.

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The truth is I can't remember what the score is.

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I think I've won, he thinks he's won...

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-Let's call it a draw, then.

-Call it a draw.

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-Congratulations.

-Jolly good.

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I accept victory, and let's go and listen to the cricket.

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Test match special here we come.

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-They're still up there, you know.

-They still are, yes.

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Well, on a warm day like this they can fly till 8pm in the evening.

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And above everything else, what it shows is that

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when it comes to eccentricity, Britain still has what it takes.

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Matthew and Neil are part of an army of thousands of amateur naturalists

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closely following the lives of butterflies across Britain.

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Together they have revealed a painful truth.

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Three quarters of all our butterflies are in decline.

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There must be something wrong in the British countryside.

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To understand why Britain's butterflies are in trouble,

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you have to start here, where a butterfly's life begins.

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Each egg is pregnant with possibility, but there's a hazardous life ahead.

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Eating your way out of a protein-rich egg is just the first problem.

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Many British birds time the birth of their young to coincide with this plentiful food supply.

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So it's no surprise that the only thing rivalling a caterpillar's appetite is its ability to hide.

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The brown hairstreak's colour enables it to blend into the foliage.

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And its shape mimics the serrated edges of the blackthorn leaves.

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A brimstone hides by lining itself up on the midrib of a leaf.

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And the orange tip mimics the seed pods of the garlic mustard on which it feeds.

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The purple emperor, looking exactly like a sallow leaf,

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right down to the pattern of the leaf veins.

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This newly-hatched orange tip would fit comfortably on a pinhead.

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But before it can become a butterfly it will need to grow into this monster.

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Just three weeks later,

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it'll be 800 times heavier.

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It results in a huge dilemma.

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Caterpillars need to stay hidden.

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But they can't afford to stay still.

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Unless, that is, they know they're being watched.

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When it comes to saving butterflies, caterpillars are key.

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Flowers make a garden butterfly-friendly, but every butterfly

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was once a hungry caterpillar, and flowers mean nothing to them.

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Each kind prefers a different plant, and when development and intensive

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agriculture destroys those plants, butterflies disappear.

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But leaving land to nature isn't enough.

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Creating the right conditions for these crucial food plants can take considerable effort.

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A lifetime working in these woods has taught one butterfly enthusiast the true value of that hard work.

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I think some people still see gamekeepers as trying to exterminate

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everything that moves, and it's not like that at all.

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I've lived and worked in the countryside all my life.

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Seen a lot of changes.

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There are not so many now on the land.

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Youngsters are just not interested.

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It's different to what it used to be, you know?

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I don't think the majority of people understand.

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You have to be a forester, you have to be a farmer...

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It all comes into the job.

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In the depths of winter, the sight of butterflies flitting through summer flowers seems impossibly distant.

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But thanks to David Nash, the gamekeeper on this country estate,

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they're here, waiting.

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A purple emperor caterpillar nestles in a frozen fork.

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Inside a twisted honeysuckle leaf, a white admiral caterpillar.

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An orange tip chrysalis looking like a dead twig.

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A speckled wood waits patiently to emerge.

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These butterflies are familiar to David because this is a working woodland, a rare thing in Britain.

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We're trying to create a sustainable woodland, not just for timber,

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but for everything that lives and grows in the woodlands.

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Most shooting estates, because of the management for the shooting,

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provides tremendous habitat and food plants for the woodland butterfly.

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Opening up of some of the woodlands is giving them what they want.

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There's more to creating woodland habitat than letting trees grow.

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Without coppicing, they become overgrown, dark, and the plants butterflies need die out.

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So, as British tradition dies, so do the butterflies.

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Coppicing continues here, to encourage animals which are shot for sport,

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a pursuit preserving an increasingly rare habitat.

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Even David's wood pile provides shelter from the harshest winter weather.

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This hungry wood mouse is not alone.

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In its search for food, it's about to stumble upon something terrifying.

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Camouflaged against the bark, something hisses in the darkness.

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This warning wards off most attackers,

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but some mice are made of sterner stuff.

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A peacock's eye spots mimic the mouse's deadliest enemy, the owl.

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It's one of our longest-lived butterflies,

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kept safe through hibernation with its camouflage and warning colours.

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Until, with the first rays of weak spring sun, it's ready to wake.

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When you see your first butterflies, it gives you the sense that the winter's over, the spring's

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on the way, and you wake up yourself a bit after the winter.

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And you know that the summer's coming then. And it... You know, it's good.

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-Mm.

-As the days lengthen and the spring sun warms the earth,

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woodland butterflies wake and prepare to make the most of Britain's often elusive summer.

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# The sun is shining where clouds have been... #

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On the bark of an oak tree, a silver-washed fritillary caterpillar,

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no bigger than a pinhead, starts an epic journey down the trunk, in search of violets.

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The snow melts from a purple emperor caterpillar, which begins to stir.

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Overwintering adults emerge from hiding.

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A leaf comes to life.

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A brimstone, the butter-coloured fly that may have given all "butter flies" their name.

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And the changing colour of a speckled wood chrysalis

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means it's almost ready to emerge.

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There are a lot of people now that would look upon

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one as being a funny old romantic when you talk about these things.

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But that's because they haven't experienced it.

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Woodland butterflies, like the white admiral and silver-washed fritillary, have declined dramatically.

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They remind us that habitat isn't just lost when a building goes up or a hedgerow's ripped out.

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It also disappears with neglect.

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The heath fritillary was known as the "woodman's friend,"

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thriving where trees were cut down and light flooded in,

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allowing its food plant, common cow wheat, to grow.

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It was close to extinction, but now creates one of our biggest butterfly spectacles, thanks

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to wardens at Blean Woods in Kent, who have resurrected traditional ways of managing the woodland.

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We've seen how butterflies can warn us when wildlife habitats are disappearing,

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but butterflies are also giving us vital information about another threat to our wildlife,

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and they're doing it through moments of beauty,

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like this.

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Britain's butterflies are emerging earlier.

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Which means Britain is warming up.

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Their sensitivity makes butterflies incredibly valuable in tracking our changing climate.

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But what effect will a warmer Britain have on them?

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It's just what some of our sun-loving butterflies want.

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The comma and holly blue have both pushed north in the last few years.

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But this butterfly, the painted lady, demonstrates above all others

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how a warmer Britain can benefit butterflies.

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Though unlocking its mysteries took one man further than you might think...

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2,500 kilometres from Britain's south coast into Morocco.

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What he found there helped to reveal how British butterflies can benefit from climate change.

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In summer, the painted lady is one of our commonest butterflies, but in winter it disappears.

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Where they go had been a mystery, but Spanish scientist Constanti Stefanescu found them.

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The first time I saw the painted lady in great numbers was in the

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gardens in Marrakech and then we crossed the Atlas and we saw hundreds and hundreds everywhere.

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Probably the most impressive sight of painted ladies I've ever seen.

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I had been looking for

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many, many years so it was the feeling of "Wow!

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"We have found what we were looking for."

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I have a feeling of happiness when I'm in the middle of a meadow.

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This is one of the most nice feelings I can have.

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This is paradise

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for me with all these painted ladies flying around.

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Yeah, it is paradise.

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Constanti's discovery proved that painted ladies travel further than anyone had thought.

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I associate the painted lady with Morocco mostly, but he's always

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on the move, tracking the best places at the right moments.

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And this is what the painted lady does.

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Painted Lady caterpillars have simple tastes.

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Thistles, nettles and mallows.

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Common plants, found from Africa to the Arctic Circle,

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but crucially, at different times of year.

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Instead of waiting for their plants to grow, the painted lady goes

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looking for them, flying wherever its food plants are to be found.

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Individuals can travel 2,500 kilometres,

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from the mountains of Morocco all the way to Britain.

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Like any nomad, they rarely pass an opportunity to refuel.

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Sugary dates from the trees,

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or for sale in local souks,

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and on flowers, briefly brought to life by the slowest moving stream -

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although feeding here has its own risks.

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Many painted ladies perish on their journey,

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but some years they arrive on Britain's shores in their millions.

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For a nomadic butterfly, whose caterpillars aren't fussy eaters, climate change brings opportunities.

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Warmer weather means their food plants are found even further north.

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But for other butterflies it could spell disaster.

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And in the Scottish Highlands is a butterfly that shows us why.

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It's home to the magnificent golden eagle,

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the ptarmigan...

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..And the mountain hare.

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Yet surviving here, despite the frozen winds,

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is something rarer than them all.

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A relic of the Ice Age, whose story demonstrates how

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vulnerable many butterflies could be to climate change.

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The mountain ringlet.

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Not the prettiest, but certainly the hardiest, and without doubt our hairiest butterfly.

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Dark, velvety wings absorb every scrap of sunlight and hairs help them keep warm.

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They're reluctant fliers.

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Instead, they ramble the Highlands in search of sustenance.

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Their survival here depends on a special collection of mountain plants

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which are only found in this cold climate.

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As Britain warms up, the mountain ringlet is

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pushed higher and higher in search of perfect conditions, until eventually it may simply run out of mountain.

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Driven off into the heavens.

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Like the mountain ringlet, many British butterflies are very particular about where they live.

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Habitat loss traps them in tiny pockets of land, where they are incredibly vulnerable.

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Three quarters of our butterflies are now in decline.

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What can be done?

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The pressure on our land is already enormous.

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After South Korea and Bangladesh, England is the most crowded country on earth.

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But cities aren't the greatest threat.

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It's agriculture.

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Intensive farming destroys the plants butterflies need.

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But there's enormous potential here to make a change

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because farmland could be the most important butterfly habitat we have.

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It can even bring butterflies back from the dead.

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The Large Blue was once extinct in Britain,

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but it relies on farm animals in a way so bizarre

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you couldn't make it up.

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Meadow ants nesting in the grass may irritate the adults,

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but are an unlikely asset for their caterpillars.

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That's because Large Blues have a rather interesting

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approach to parental care.

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Their young are adopted by ants.

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The caterpillar mimics the sound and smell of the ants' own young and,

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mistaken for a mislaid ant larva,

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is taken back to the nest by the foraging ant workers.

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But it doesn't repay the favour.

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Once underground, the caterpillar leads a predatory life,

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eating the ants' own larvae,

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until one day it's ready to change into a pupa...

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..and eventually emerges as one of our rarest butterflies.

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Ants are vital to the butterfly,

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but if the grass is too long, they move out.

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So without sheep to keep the grass short, there would be no ants,

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and without the ants, the Large Blue would be lost.

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This place is a nature reserve

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and we can't turn the whole of Britain into one of those.

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But in the long term, Britain will have to produce food sustainably,

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and government schemes are now encouraging farmers

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to restore intensively farmed land for wildlife.

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Farmland that encourages butterflies

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is a place of flowering meadows and field margins buzzing with life.

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Butterflies can bring back the wildlife-rich countryside we adore.

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But unless these oases are joined up,

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the butterflies trapped here will always be at risk.

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It's why butterfly conservation

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is now focused on creating a vast chain of habitats across Britain.

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But it can be slow going.

0:31:530:31:55

Which is why, in his frustration,

0:31:570:32:00

one man has taken matters into his own hands

0:32:000:32:03

and is about to launch his next attack.

0:32:030:32:07

I'm certain that various factions have moved to have me arrested.

0:32:140:32:19

And I have to admit, you are sacrificing a lot of lives.

0:32:190:32:23

From his greenhouse nerve centre,

0:32:260:32:28

Martin White meticulously plans his campaign.

0:32:280:32:31

That is the spot.

0:32:370:32:38

With preparations complete, it's time to gather the troops.

0:32:410:32:45

So much time has been involved that there's no margin for error.

0:32:480:32:53

With a last wave to Mother, Martin heads off.

0:32:550:32:59

Before they started to destroy the wild flower meadows,

0:33:180:33:22

I do remember that era, and to see it lost,

0:33:220:33:24

it's just so exasperating and depressing.

0:33:240:33:27

What can I do about it?

0:33:280:33:31

And you go to these sites and you realise

0:33:330:33:35

that those butterflies just aren't there any more

0:33:350:33:37

and the next thing you realise is that they could be put back there.

0:33:370:33:41

Martin has spent decades breeding and then releasing rare butterflies.

0:33:460:33:53

No-one knows where he'll strike next.

0:33:530:33:57

And what he's about to do is highly controversial.

0:33:570:34:01

I remember my 2,000th introduction and it got that boring after a while

0:34:150:34:20

and I just wanted that number 2,000 to come up.

0:34:200:34:22

Yes, fairly obsessive.

0:34:220:34:26

I would say it does help.

0:34:260:34:28

Martin's impact on this region's butterflies has been enormous.

0:34:280:34:32

Well, at its absolute peak, I did 48 British butterfly species in a year.

0:34:320:34:37

The lawn was covered in pots,

0:34:370:34:39

the path was covered in pots. It was just...

0:34:390:34:42

a nightmare keeping it all running.

0:34:420:34:45

A quarter of my life would be taken up either producing the butterflies

0:34:450:34:49

in the first place, or actually going out, surveying the habitat,

0:34:490:34:53

and of course then the next thing to do is

0:34:530:34:55

to go back and check to see if they're still there or not.

0:34:550:34:58

These are Marbled White caterpillars. And they don't need much.

0:35:140:35:18

They'll munch happily on grass,

0:35:180:35:20

and when they're ready for a change, sit patiently on the surface.

0:35:200:35:26

Marbled Whites are common in the South,

0:35:440:35:47

but our warming climate

0:35:470:35:49

is making grasslands in the Midlands more suitable.

0:35:490:35:53

And Martin is helping the marbled white push north.

0:35:530:35:58

Martin's actions anger many.

0:36:210:36:24

Oh, yes, I've been arrested once.

0:36:240:36:26

And I said, "Well, thank you very much, I'd love to be a martyr."

0:36:260:36:30

If they're going to stick it in the national press,

0:36:300:36:32

"Mr White from Worksop has been arrested

0:36:320:36:35

"for liberating rare butterflies in the Worksop area",

0:36:350:36:37

the press would have an absolute field day.

0:36:370:36:40

I'd make them look so small and ridiculous.

0:36:400:36:42

Unless you actually do start

0:36:420:36:44

recreating large strips of countryside for things

0:36:440:36:46

to actually move up and down, it's just not going to happen.

0:36:460:36:49

Martin reminds us that one person

0:36:490:36:52

can make an enormous contribution to conservation.

0:36:520:36:55

But how do you inspire people to care?

0:36:570:37:01

One person thinks butterflies are the answer.

0:37:010:37:05

This is Clive Farrell's back garden.

0:37:090:37:11

He's made it one of the richest butterfly habitats in the country,

0:37:110:37:15

a place to inspire the next generation of enthusiasts.

0:37:150:37:18

When I was a kid, my greatest joy

0:37:180:37:21

was running through a flowering meadow

0:37:210:37:23

and how many city children get that opportunity?

0:37:230:37:27

I think it's very important to try and get them to re-engage with the

0:37:290:37:32

natural world, and if butterflies are the mechanism, then so be it.

0:37:320:37:37

Shall we look for some butterflies along this bank here?

0:37:370:37:40

The first one to spot a blue butterfly wins a marble.

0:37:400:37:45

At this age, they haven't had the chance to get jaded and cynical

0:37:450:37:50

and I often feel jaded and cynical.

0:37:500:37:53

But having children here, well, it's like a tonic.

0:37:530:37:57

-Are you allowed in?

-Yeah, well, you have to ask his permission first.

0:37:570:38:01

Can we go in your house, please?

0:38:010:38:03

Come on, then. He's the oldest gnome in England

0:38:030:38:07

and he's addicted to blackberry wine,

0:38:070:38:09

and of course blackberries are wonderful for butterflies as well.

0:38:090:38:12

-Do any of you believe in dragons?

-Me!

0:38:120:38:17

Well, you're going to have a big surprise in a minute.

0:38:180:38:21

Wow! Over there! Over there!

0:38:210:38:23

Kay, it's the dragon. Wow, that's amazing!

0:38:230:38:27

Look, if you want to stand on top of the dragon,

0:38:270:38:30

you go up that bank there and you can stand on top.

0:38:300:38:32

We're the dragon slayers!

0:38:320:38:35

Why do you dedicate all this land just to your butterflies?

0:38:370:38:41

What I would like to do is to get children interested in butterflies,

0:38:410:38:45

in the hobby that's taken over my life.

0:38:450:38:47

I think most gardens are a bit boring, aren't they?

0:38:470:38:50

But by having dragons and other creatures,

0:38:500:38:53

it makes it more interesting.

0:38:530:38:55

That's the way I look at it. Shall we go over these banks?

0:38:550:38:58

It's planted with wild strawberries, the food plant of a rare butterfly.

0:38:580:39:02

Now you can go and pick as many as you like.

0:39:020:39:04

There are days when I'm completely lost

0:39:040:39:08

and I watch the butterflies flitting through the grasses,

0:39:080:39:13

and those are moments of complete happiness.

0:39:130:39:16

And then the bank manager comes into my mind.

0:39:160:39:19

HE LAUGHS

0:39:190:39:21

It's complete financial lunacy!

0:39:210:39:24

Impressive as it is, Clive's back garden was just the start.

0:39:250:39:30

On the outskirts of London, he's risking millions on his belief

0:39:300:39:34

that butterflies hold the key

0:39:340:39:36

to reconnecting Britain's children with a love of nature.

0:39:360:39:39

We've destroyed 98% of our rich flowering meadows.

0:39:420:39:46

The good news is that it is possible to turn the clock back.

0:39:460:39:51

If we can create Hertfordshire's richest flowering meadow

0:39:510:39:54

on the outskirts of London and introduce London's children

0:39:540:39:59

to these wonderful areas,

0:39:590:40:01

then I think I would have done something worthwhile.

0:40:010:40:04

This is butterfly conservation on an industrial scale.

0:40:040:40:10

Water containing millions of flower seeds is sprayed across the land.

0:40:100:40:15

Even in places like this, we can heal the land,

0:40:150:40:18

heal it with flowers and grasses and butterflies.

0:40:180:40:22

The butterflies will be the messengers,

0:40:220:40:25

and hopefully we'll listen to the message

0:40:250:40:28

and do something about the destruction that's still going on.

0:40:280:40:31

Clive knows that if you get the habitat right,

0:40:330:40:36

you can turn the clock back.

0:40:360:40:38

But when it comes to protecting Britain's threatened landscapes,

0:40:390:40:44

others have to be inspired to care.

0:40:440:40:46

And to do that, Clive needs nothing more than butterflies

0:40:460:40:51

and the magic of childhood.

0:40:510:40:56

They're the custodians of the world,

0:40:560:40:59

the wardens of the future, if you like, so if they can be persuaded

0:40:590:41:04

to conserve the last little scraps of flowering meadows

0:41:040:41:07

and coppiced woodland that used to cover the British Isles,

0:41:070:41:11

that is very important.

0:41:110:41:13

Of all the visits, it's the children that

0:41:260:41:29

I enjoy the most, and I think they get the most out of it, as well.

0:41:290:41:32

And they're not allowed to send a thank you letter.

0:41:320:41:35

I tell them I want more ideas, and we get some pretty amazing ideas.

0:41:350:41:40

What I want is a billionaire big brother who's got some spare money

0:41:400:41:44

in his back pocket and says "Yes, Clive, just do it all."

0:41:440:41:48

-Who would like to see the island of dreams?

-Me, me.

0:41:480:41:51

All right, you follow me, then.

0:41:510:41:53

I'm not going to be the last one!

0:41:590:42:01

Managing Britain's woodland and farmland for butterflies

0:42:040:42:07

can preserve the countryside we love,

0:42:070:42:10

and butterflies can inspire the next generation to protect it.

0:42:100:42:14

But if you still have doubts about whether butterflies can make Britain

0:42:160:42:20

a better place, then you need look no further than the humble caterpillar.

0:42:200:42:25

Because if there's one thing we've learnt from them,

0:42:250:42:29

it's that change is possible.

0:42:290:42:33

This is a Brimstone.

0:42:390:42:41

It emerged from an egg, a few weeks ago,

0:42:410:42:44

but now it's ready for a change.

0:42:440:42:46

First it spins a silken pad,

0:42:500:42:52

a place to anchor hooks on the rear of its body.

0:42:520:42:56

In a move to rival a contortionist,

0:43:010:43:04

it passes strands of silk behind itself,

0:43:040:43:07

creating a girdle to support it through the change to come.

0:43:070:43:11

With anchor and lines secure,

0:43:240:43:27

the transformation can take place.

0:43:270:43:30

Caterpillars are little more than stomachs on legs.

0:43:370:43:41

But that body has served its purpose, and can be discarded

0:43:410:43:47

in favour of another.

0:43:470:43:50

The caterpillar's head is about to split wide open.

0:43:500:43:54

And when it does, something very different will emerge.

0:43:540:43:59

A chrysalis.

0:44:040:44:06

The caterpillar was an eating machine,

0:44:080:44:11

an identity rolled up like a sock and discarded.

0:44:110:44:15

This body is for something different, an agent of near-miraculous change,

0:44:170:44:23

and one responsible for making butterflies powerful symbols

0:44:230:44:27

of hope and transformation.

0:44:270:44:30

This is a sign that something beautiful is surely on its way.

0:44:310:44:37

The chrysalis is one of the most enduring symbols

0:44:400:44:44

in the natural world,

0:44:440:44:45

and to understand its power,

0:44:450:44:47

there's no better place to look than our cities.

0:44:470:44:51

These are places that can seem devoid of the beauty a butterfly brings,

0:44:540:45:00

but where you can really begin to understand the hold that butterflies have on us.

0:45:000:45:06

One man who understands their power is Nick Walker,

0:45:070:45:11

one of the world's most influential street artists.

0:45:110:45:16

Using, you know, the theme of a butterfly, it conjures a lot of imagery for me.

0:45:160:45:22

They symbolise a lot of things as well, so that's always good with creating paintings with stories.

0:45:230:45:31

And, yeah, it's perfect. It's a perfect symbol to kind of play with in general.

0:45:310:45:37

With butterflies, you know, they've a beautiful symmetry,

0:45:370:45:42

and within that symmetry, you know, you can always

0:45:420:45:46

play with inside the symmetry.

0:45:460:45:49

It's, I guess, distorting its beauty in a way.

0:45:490:45:53

Something so beautiful, you know, you can actually kind of bring

0:45:530:45:59

a sinister element to it, which is something, you know, I always kind of like doing.

0:45:590:46:03

It is a labour of love and when you are cutting out a stencil it is almost like you have time to think.

0:46:030:46:10

I've always been intrigued about kind of,

0:46:100:46:16

you know, the longevity of a butterfly in general.

0:46:160:46:19

It's like, you know, they only, some of them only last a week.

0:46:190:46:23

It's crazy for something so kind of beautiful to actually sort of only

0:46:250:46:29

be around for such a short amount of time.

0:46:290:46:31

It's a little bit like street art.

0:46:310:46:34

You know, once a piece goes up there's no telling

0:46:340:46:37

kind of when it's going to be painted over or destroyed.

0:46:370:46:43

You plan it out and then it's literally like proper black op.

0:46:430:46:48

Go in, do it, get out, done.

0:46:480:46:52

The subject matter of the butterfly, I mean, they symbolise things but

0:46:520:46:57

they make you think. Your like, "oh, wow!

0:46:570:46:59

"why did that just land on me?" Or when you're living in

0:46:590:47:04

a predominantly kind of like big, concrete, grey environment

0:47:040:47:09

and you see a butterfly kind of flutter by, and it's like, "whoa",

0:47:090:47:14

you know, something so small and so delicate amongst this kind of mayhem of the city and the world, and the

0:47:140:47:22

super hyper-fast kind of existences we live.

0:47:220:47:25

All of a sudden all that disappears because there's a butterfly there, do you know what I mean?

0:47:250:47:30

It's one of those kind of things. That's the way I've always seen it.

0:47:300:47:33

Images of butterflies are so important to some

0:47:530:47:57

that they decide to carry them with them for life.

0:47:570:48:02

This is Britain's biggest tattoo convention,

0:48:040:48:09

and butterflies are everywhere.

0:48:090:48:13

Ask people why they've chosen them and the answers are thoughtful, considered,

0:48:130:48:20

and remarkably similar.

0:48:200:48:21

I wanted to mark a life-changing experience.

0:48:230:48:27

A rite of passage.

0:48:270:48:30

Leaving a long-term partner.

0:48:300:48:34

Starting a new job.

0:48:340:48:37

Becoming a woman.

0:48:380:48:41

Butterflies are powerful symbols.

0:48:410:48:44

Undeniably beautiful,

0:48:440:48:47

delicate, yet determined, transient and transformative.

0:48:470:48:54

And what's so important about these butterflies

0:48:540:48:57

is that each and every one

0:48:570:49:01

tells a life story.

0:49:010:49:04

Stories so important to these women,

0:49:050:49:08

that they have shed blood,

0:49:080:49:12

sweat

0:49:120:49:15

and tears

0:49:150:49:17

to remember them.

0:49:170:49:19

Butterflies will always find a home in our cities,

0:49:260:49:30

because the caterpillars of the small tortoiseshell, peacock,

0:49:330:49:38

red admiral and comma all feed on nettles.

0:49:380:49:42

Camouflage is for caterpillars that can't handle themselves, and peacocks hang out in threatening groups.

0:49:500:49:58

Predators can't miss them, but decide they are best avoided.

0:49:590:50:04

Their impressive spines ward off attackers.

0:50:040:50:09

And those of the small tortoiseshell can pierce even human skin.

0:50:090:50:13

But it's not just our common butterflies that find a home in urban areas.

0:50:160:50:22

There are places just beyond the barbed wire and no trespassing signs

0:50:220:50:27

that are vital for some of Britain's most threatened species.

0:50:270:50:31

This railway yard near Wakefield was amongst the busiest in Europe.

0:50:350:50:42

But there's something special about these brown field sites.

0:50:420:50:45

The poor soil keeps aggressive plants in check.

0:50:450:50:50

And bare ground warms quickly in the sun, encouraging wild flowers.

0:50:500:50:55

It makes them an important home for some of our most threatened butterflies.

0:50:570:51:01

That's why, hidden in the clinker, you'll find an unassuming, passionate lover.

0:51:010:51:08

The grayling isn't much to look at, but it's in possession of a powerful aphrodisiac.

0:51:100:51:17

And this male is just hotting up.

0:51:170:51:21

Most butterflies open their wings for warmth, but graylings angle their body to the sun.

0:51:210:51:27

Hot-blooded males buzz any brown object, and if it's a female, courtship commences.

0:51:290:51:36

Jerking his wings upwards, he proudly reveals his assets.

0:51:490:51:54

The grayling's no peacock, but he still struts proudly, flashing his orange eyespots.

0:51:540:52:01

Finally, with quivering excitement, he readies his secret weapon.

0:52:040:52:09

On the male's wings are scent glands, which produce an aphrodisiac described as "love dust".

0:52:090:52:16

With a deep bow he anoints the female's sensitive antennae.

0:52:160:52:19

Who could resist?

0:52:220:52:24

The dull sounding grayling, dingy and grizzled skippers

0:52:300:52:35

might not inspire the excitement of Britain's more colourful butterflies,

0:52:350:52:39

but they're increasingly rare, threatened by our desire to develop these industrial sites.

0:52:390:52:46

Places like these can be incredibly valuable for wildlife, but they also have a historical significance.

0:52:470:52:55

Perhaps they should be left as areas

0:52:550:52:57

where we celebrate both, because when this place is developed the grayling

0:52:570:53:03

and another link with Britain's proud industrial past will be lost.

0:53:030:53:10

What goes on inside the chrysalis is the stuff of science fiction.

0:53:360:53:41

A real-life Star Trek transporter.

0:53:410:53:46

The caterpillar's body is broken down and its molecules reassembled as something else entirely.

0:53:460:53:54

Digestive juices turn the caterpillar into a nutrient-rich soup.

0:54:020:54:06

But floating in the fluid are special groups of cells,

0:54:060:54:12

and around them, a butterfly body is slowly built.

0:54:120:54:15

Throughout history, few other animals have had such enduring appeal.

0:54:220:54:26

But what makes butterflies unique is that, as well as being objects

0:54:280:54:33

of aesthetic beauty, their life cycle gives them great symbolic power.

0:54:330:54:38

They've come to represent beauty, the soul, freedom,

0:54:410:54:47

elegance, and the ephemeral nature of life.

0:54:470:54:51

But, when it comes to saving our countryside,

0:54:580:55:02

the most valuable lesson we can learn from butterflies

0:55:020:55:06

is that change is possible.

0:55:060:55:08

As dawn breaks over London,

0:55:390:55:42

the city wakes,

0:55:420:55:45

and the people of Notting Hill prepare for the biggest street celebration in Europe.

0:55:450:55:50

Nothing else in Britain unites so many people of such different ages and cultures.

0:55:540:56:01

But it's no surprise that butterflies are here.

0:56:070:56:10

Their appeal is universal.

0:56:100:56:14

100 million years after they first adorned the world, they are as captivating as ever.

0:56:140:56:22

And although Britain's butterflies have never been so threatened,

0:56:220:56:26

they still have a message for us -

0:56:260:56:30

that beauty can be found in the simplest things.

0:56:320:56:36

That anything is possible.

0:56:410:56:45

And managing our land for butterflies doesn't just help them,

0:56:450:56:50

it can slowly transform Britain into something that many may

0:56:500:56:54

distantly remember and the young have never known.

0:56:540:56:58

A Britain of colourful fields and flower-filled meadows.

0:57:010:57:06

Where the hedgerows are alive with wildlife, and sunlight dances in coppiced woodland clearings.

0:57:090:57:15

A place where the traditions of our past are upheld

0:57:170:57:21

and our heritage remembered.

0:57:210:57:26

And, if that isn't enough?

0:57:260:57:28

Well, butterflies make us smile.

0:57:280:57:31

And life is hard enough without a little happiness.

0:57:310:57:36

So find your own butterfly obsession,

0:57:400:57:43

and thank these people for their passion,

0:57:430:57:48

their energy,

0:57:480:57:50

and even their eccentricity.

0:57:500:57:52

Because without them

0:57:520:57:55

and without the butterflies they love,

0:57:550:57:57

Britain would be a poorer place.

0:57:570:58:01

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:58:110:58:14

E-mail [email protected]

0:58:140:58:18

Wildlife documentary featuring the fascinating lives of Britain's beautiful butterflies filmed in exquisite detail, and also a celebration of their enduring appeal to the British people. Butterfly-costumed carnival-goers dance at Notting Hill, street artist Nick Walker uses their image to brighten bare city walls, burlesque dancer Vicky Butterfly recreates butterfly dances, and women reveal their butterfly tattoos at Britain's biggest tattoo convention.

Britain's butterflies have never been so threatened, three-quarters are in decline - but do they still have a message for us? A search for butterflies leads to some of the most beautiful parts of Britain. It opens up the intriguing possibility that a passion for butterflies could help us preserve the landscapes that we love.


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