Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Theft Part 2

Butterfly collecting, like most activities, has always had it's fair share of both gentlemen and rogues. And for those of us who take an interest in historic specimens, the knavish tricks of the roguish element from days long past continue to confound us even to this day. It would be a mistake to romanticise the past in this respect; some of the most crooked elements of the hobby were at their most active in the mid nineteenth century; busy selling continental specimens for princely sums at auction after carefully applying false data in order to convince those collectors blinded by enthusiasm (and with more cash than cognisance) that the insects were genuine immigrants captured on British soil, or from tiny colonies in remote areas of the countryside. Anyone who follows the lucrative sale of specimens on Ebay will see that little has changed today; fraudulent specimens do still appear on the market, and there seems to be no end of people all too willing to spend (on occasions) hundreds of pounds for them!
As for the removal of livestock from a SSSI, yes this is indeed illegal, and yes the law is indeed an ass; primarily for existing at all when it could never be enforced. I broke the law in the outside lane of the motorway yesterday on my way to work; and the landlord who served me my first pint of draught ale certainly did. The law is particularly ass-ish when it fails so miserably to protect the very thing that it exists to serve. Certainly in theory an individual could be prosecuted for removing five iris larvae from an SSSI, but it wouldn't prevent a major supermarket building a super-store on the site should they feel so inclined. But I digress. Anyone currently rearing iris in captivity is likely to be fostering stock that originates from an SSSI in this day and age; and the fact that iris larvae can command eye watering prices at the AES show etc. only fuels a situation that could serve to encourage unscrupulous individuals to procure stock from the wild. Iris is also notoriously difficult to pair in captivity, often requiring the use of a hand pairing technique which is difficult to master. George Hyde mastered this technique and bred several fine series of iris (I believe these are in Doncaster Museum but I could be very wrong). Heslop never managed to, and Hyde's reluctance to reveal the secrets of his success eventually led to a minor falling out between the pair; Heslop being deeply jealous of Hyde's successes in this area.
As for the larvae Matthew has been observing (I hesitate to refer to them as 'Matthew''s larvae), given that the losses are reported at what MO describes as the 'subsidiary' rather than the 'main' site (and only apparently a maximum of five larvae) is it a certainty that this is a deliberate act of collecting the larvae? Could it not be that the larvae were inadvertently removed as an indirect consequence of someone innocently lopping branches from the sallow (for whatever reason that may be...)? I harvest hazel for 'pea sticks' and 'bean poles' from long abandoned hazel coppices local to me each Winter; I hope that no one was judiciously monitoring anything on those particular hazel stools..!
Perhaps the perpetrator isn't necessarily as wicked as Matthew has suggests, rather just misguided, and spurred to rear iris in captivity as other contributors to this site do after having read the fascinating articles published on this very web site. It is to be hoped that if the larvae have been taken, that the individual concerned means no harm and is experienced enough in the dark arts of iris rearing to ensure that the resulting imagines shall grace a 'Wiltshire wood' this coming summer.
Don't get me wrong, I am not condoning the disruption of a potentially valuable survey (this aspect of the affair is deplorable); I am merely attempting to see the best in people who are captivated by this most enigmatic insect.

Piers Vigus

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