Checkerspot on the news

Neil Jones Neil at
Mon May 8 13:07:22 EDT 2000

In article <3913C835.556F8DD at>
           sphinxangelorum at "Pierre A Plauzoles" writes:

> Sunsol wrote:
> > I heard something on the news this morning about a checkerspot. They said
> > that the Army Corps of Engineers gave a permit to a developer in San Jose,
> > CA to put in a shopping mall. And now they will have to wait a year to start
> > construction because of the checkerspot. What will waiting a year do? Do
> > they plan to move the checkerspot?
> I haven't heard aboiut this one, I suspect that you are on the right track.
> Stupid, ignorant move in my opinion.  Ask Neil Jones how the same thing went in
> Wales, and you will get a good idea of why I am so adamant about it.  OK, Wales
> and California don't match very well, but that is not my point.

It doesn't appear that this is what is being suggested in San
Jose but it does have some relevance.

What Pierre is talking about is the destruction of the
Selar (Pronounced like Cellar) grasslands site at Cwmgwrach (Koom GWRRahCH) in
South Wales. ( Cwmgwrach means the Valley of the Witch)

I have written about this before but I recently
obtained details about more research done on the site
which I include below. I know from my private correspondence that
a number of lepidopterists are interested in the fate of this
project which I have reported on before.

The site contained a colony of the Checkerspot Butterfly
Eurodryas (=Euphydryas) aurinia.  Which is actually
known by the common name of Marsh Fritillary. 
Physically the upperside of the butterfly looks
very like the Quino Checkerspot. So much so 
that many people think that the picture of quino that
I show them is in fact the British species.

There were two attempts to move the butterfly by breeding it 
and releasing it in different areas. THESE FAILED.

Conservationists know of over EIGHTY attempts 
to establish the Marsh Fritillary by releasing it at sites that
have failed. There are NO long term successes AT ALL!.

The site contained some of the finest examples of grassland
I have seen ANYWHERE. The rich carpet of wild flowers
so dominated the sward in places that there was hardly any grass.
This place was so superbly rich that it had been described
as of being the of quality of a "Nature Conservation Review Site".
 The designation means  that it was a site of the highest possible

IT WAS DESTROYED!!!! The site is now a massive, gaping, ugly  hole 
in the ground made by an opencast or "strip" mine for coal.

At much expense some of the turves from the site were dug up and
 moved  to another site some distance away. The effectiveness
of such techniques has always been questionable.
It has been likened to moving the Mona Lisa by cutting it into
little pieces and pasting it on the outside wall of the Louvre.

Considerable vindication  of this position 
comes from  some research published in the last few months in 
the journal Restoration Ecology.  It documents in detail some of 
the changes on the translocated turves over just the first four
 years. It is clear that as an exercise in conserving the 
special qualities of the grasslands the project has been a failure.

Firstly the species richness of the turves  has declined dramatically.
The dry turves that were moved had the worst losses with over half the
plant species disappearing. The wet grassland turves faired a little
better but even in this case nearly a third of the species have gone.
Secondly the vegetation structure and type has changed dramatically.
Many of the dry turves were of a rare and rich type of haymeadow which
is given the name "MG5". After 4 years however they were showing a
significant change, coming more to resemble as commoner and less
 rich type of grassland known as "U4".
The wet turves were also something really special. They contained a rare
type of Fen Meadow called "M24"  , a classification that placed them in a
category listed under the European Habitats  Directive. A rich blend of 
wildflowers and Purple Moor Grass that is often beloved by Marsh Fritillaries.
This fen meadow vegetation has also changed since it was moved.
It also resembles more closely a commoner and less rich habitat.
 In this case one called "M25b" mire. Some wet heath of a rich type called
M15c was also moved and it has 
now become what the paper calls,"an intergrade between a Rush Mire 
(M25b) and  rather poor wet heath (M16b)."

In general conclusion the paper stated "The characteristic community structure
of the  original vegetation was, in most cases lost or substantially altered.
After 4 years the transplanted material was modified to become transitional
between its original composition and the vegetation of the receiver areas." 

Neil Jones- Neil at
"At some point I had to stand up and be counted. Who speaks for the
butterflies?" Andrew Lees - The quotation on his memorial at Crymlyn Bog
National Nature Reserve

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