As our climate changes we are starting to see some new species visit and make their homes in The Living Coast. Here Dr Dan Danahar, Biodiversity Educationalist at Dorothy Stringer High School and Habitat Restoration Officer at the Sussex Branch of Butterfly Conservation, shares his experience of just that – the arrival of the Long Tailed Blue butterfly on the shores of Sussex.
The long tale of the Long-tailed Blue Butterfly along The Living Coast
On the 9th of August 2013 Ralph Hobbs, a Sussex based butterfly enthusiast, reported a sighting of the Long-tailed Blue butterfly Lampides boeticus from Pett Village, East Sussex. Few people would have been able to predict the series of events that would unfold following this initial sighting but Neil Hulme, co-author of the celebrated Butterflies of Sussex, was one of these few. For it was Neil who had set the ball rolling when he predicted, on the sightings page of the Sussex branch of Butterfly Conservation (https://www.sussex-butterflies.org.uk/sightings/) that the arrival of this species in Sussex was imminent.
The first Long-tailed Blue recorded from the UK was found in August 1859 by a Mr N. McArthur, who saw it on the Brighton Downs, in Sussex and so it became known as the Brighton Argus. In the 150-year interval between its original sighting and 2013 only 22 specimens of this butterfly had been recorded in our county. Until recently the Long-tailed Blue had been viewed as an extremely rare insect and you would have been considered as a very lucky person to see this once in a life-time butterfly.
As the story of the Long-tailed Blue began to unfold, it became apparent to me that this was a once in a lifetime story. It soon became obvious that we were in the right place, at the right time, to witness one of nature’s most remarkable responses to human induced climate change. Consequently, I realised that this was a story that just had to be documented. I am a self-taught film maker, whose interest in this art form grew out of a need to further encourage people to engage in the then newly created Brighton & Lewes Downs Biosphere Reserve – now known as ‘The Living Coast’.
Having been involved with its creation and eventual designation by UNESCO in 2014, I was looking for new ways to capture public interest in our work. I had set up a FaceBook group called ‘Butterflies of the Biosphere’ and making films using my smart phone became an obvious extension of this effort. Then suddenly, the Long-tailed blue story broke. This butterfly’s preferred larval host plant has a flamboyantly coloured vivid pink flower and is a species from the Pea family. The Broad-leaved ever-lasting Pea, is itself an immigrant that is commonly found on brown field sites and so it will come as no surprise that many of the observed sightings for this butterfly came from within The Living Coast and in particular from within the gardens of local residents.
The Long-tailed Blue is sure to be the first of many new species that arrive along The Living Coast. If I were in a position of influence in our local council, I would strongly suggest that they take full advantage of this new addition to our butterfly fauna, especially given its historical significance to our region. I am a strong proponent of eco-tourism and the appearance of this beautiful new butterfly species should be celebrated in any PR materials that aims to promote ecotourism, as an industry lead and preferred model for tourism development. Capitalising on changes in the natural world for the development of a sustainable economy, is in my opinion just common sense and this is an approach that is going to have to happen as our climate rapidly changes.
This entire 5-year story is condensed into my 45 min film that can now be viewed on YouTube here
I hope you enjoy it.
Dr Dan Danahar - Biodiversity Educationalist & Habitat Restoration Officer at Butterfly Conservation (Sussex)