Thanks to a legacy from the late Harry Eales*, a dedicated wildlife enthusiast with a passion for butterflies, Durham Wildlife Trust has created a panel to celebrate one of its most successful projects.
The interpretation panel at the Black Plantation Nature Reserve, near Lanchester, depicts the life cycle of one of County Durham’s rarest butterflies: the small pearl-bordered fritillary. On Wednesday 5th June it was unveiled by Stuart Pudney, of Northumbrian Water.
Between 1977 and 2004, it was calculated that one third of the English colonies of small pearl-bordered fritillary became extinct and in County Durham by 2000 there were only three known sites left. The decline has been attributed to changing climatic conditions, changes in land use and degradation of existing breeding grounds.
Durham Wildlife Trust’s Heart of Durham Project, with support and funding from Northumbrian Water, was set up in 2010 with the specific aim of reversing the decline of the charismatic butterfly. Through a collaborative approach with landowners and farmers, Butterfly Conservation and Durham Wildlife Trust, as well as the dedication of Trust volunteers, areas where the butterfly was once common have been restored through scrub removal and planting of marsh violets, the larval food source. Nine years on the project can now be hailed as a ‘re-wilding success’.
Back in 2014, Black Plantation was chosen as a site to reintroduce captive-bred small pearl-bordered fritillary butterfly caterpillars. From the initial 170 caterpillars released, today – five years on – the colony there has increased three-fold.
On a bright warm sunny day, the vivid orange of the small pearl-bordered fritillary butterfly, so called because of the series of pearl drops along the hind wing edge, is a sight to behold and has brought enthusiasts from all over the country. Today, Black Plantation is only part of the story; the small pearl-bordered fritillary butterfly is spreading across various sites in County Durham. Colonies are increasing and becoming robust and it is hoped that this will help the butterfly be more adaptable when faced with environmental challenges.
*Harry Eales, who died in 2017 aged 74 years, played a key role in recording butterflies in County Durham, his lifelong passion and interest.
Harry was in the RAF, then qualified as a gas fitter after serving an apprenticeship and was also a member of the Police Force working in the West End of Newcastle. He was born in Newcastle upon Tyne on 28th February 1943 but lived the last years of his life in Low Westwood, near Consett. He died on December 1st 2017 at the age of 74.
Harry’s love of insects was triggered as a child by a yellow butterfly with black edges on its wings. It took flight when he approached it thinking it was a flower that his mam would like and he was hooked.
An aunt encouraged him by giving him the Observers Book of Butterflies and so began a life’s work on the subject.
Harry started with butterflies followed by dragonflies, lacewings and shield bugs. He was a self-taught entomologist and very dedicated to the subject, being very careful in his work and meticulous concerning accuracy and detail. He did a lot of study concerning the Large Heath Butterfly. Harry also bred butterflies from caterpillars in his back yard ready for release onto their original sites.
Harry’s sister Jacky Bell said: “There was still much work that Harry wished to do including a study of bees but, sadly, it wasn’t to be. Hopefully, there will be others who will follow Harry’s example and continue the work that he so loved.”
On retiring, Harry started surveys for Northumbrian Water in 2002, after reviewing his butterfly data (originating from the 1960s) and realising that there was very little or no data on Northumbrian Water reservoirs. Harry contacted Northumbrian Water and the Northumbrian Water Conservation Team came up with a list of thirteen sites for him to survey. Harry continued to do surveys for Northumbrian Water on an annual basis for more than a decade. His reports were always very comprehensive and written in an informal style with recommendations that Northumbrian Water could implement.