The World of Natural History and in particular the Study of Butterflies, Moths and Insects (Entomology) has a long and proud heritage, especially in Great Britain.
A curiosity with other life forms has existed from the dawn of time, man has always been inquisitive of the World around him and insects are no exception. Much of what we know today about Butterflies sand Moths (Lepidoptera) has been handed down to us over the last three hundred years by dedicated enthusiasts many of whom spent their entire lives in the study of Lepidoptera.
In Britain these early Butterfly Collectors were known as "Aurelians" from the latin "aureolus" said to refer to the gilded chrysalids of certain Butterflies. These Men and Women of decades and centuries past spent themselves in their pursuit of these wonderful creatures, finding themselves an inner happiness and contentment as they each drifted into the parallel world of the angelic Butterfly.
From the early coffee houses of the 1700's, where such "Aurelians" met the foundations of practical Entomology, Botany, etc... was spawned. As the interest across Europe spread, such great works of Natural History as "Insectorum Theatrum" (1634) and Caroli Linnaei's "Systema Nature" (1758) have helped create order by classification leading to greater knowledge and appreciation of the world around us.
Names of these early pioneers abound, yet such Study was not limited to the intellectuals and wealthy. The Natural World fascinated people from all walks of life and in the Victorian era many homes posed a "Curiosity" cabinet of Natural History specimens. This was not viewed as some morbid pastime but an intricate part of mans personel interaction with the world around him by practical "hands on" experience.
In the centuries before the advent of the automobile a stoll in the English Countryside was a common pastime. Such peaceful walks connected people with Nature. In these long lost days before modernization and Agricultural reforms, Butterflies existed in profusion, many of which are now rare, isolated or extinct.
As the interest in the Natural World increased so did "Collecting" Today this word conjures up images of wanton destruction of living things to satisfy the desire of man. This may well be true of some individuals but many Collectors both past and present do so because of the interaction such collecting affords them. It is a passion which should not be snuffed out.
So what of today? Our great Natural History institutions across the globe boast of their magnificent collections (most of which has been donated by private collectors!) The Public can peruse these establishments and muse over countless examples of preserved species. Has this curiosity with Nature led to the extinction of species at the hand of man? In some cases the answer is "Yes" and examples such as the Great Auk or Dodo come to mind. However we must be honest about the true causes of decline, in this article the decline of British Butterflies.
"Protection" has become a word used regularly by Conservation groups and others who would rather no life forms of any kind be kept in captivity. British Butterflies began being protected by the Wildlife and Countryside act in 1989 with revisions in 1992. Further additions to this legislation has been added by the European Union under the "European Protected Species List" I can provide the complete lists and laws to those interested, simply e-mail me.
Now these laws are aimed to protect these species from any one who may wish to harm them. These blanket laws far from helping preserve species are harming them. How can this statement be verified? These current laws make no easy way out for conservation minded breeders and collectors of Lepidoptera to continue captive breeding programmes. These emasculating laws prohibit many necessary activities of the practical lepidopterist. In severly restricting captive breeding due to license issues etc... many rare species will no longer be reared for fear of reprisal from groups misunderstanding the work of lepidopterist, leading to prosecution. In turn underground black markets appear created by harsh legislation and resulting in inflated prices for even quite common insects.
You may say leave it to "Zoo's" and "Experts", however ask any Zoo administrator and they will tell you they have no surplus money to rear obscure or rare butterflies, they are simply just not a cost affective investment. As regards the "experts" (those with degree's?) - the true "experts" are those practical men and women who can rear, breed and preserve a species. Intellectual head knowledge obtained from a book on the mechanics or DNA of a species cannot and does not make one a practical expert. So the question must be asked what of the future for the infamous "Lepidopterist" ??
The media and other groups have moulded the mind of the General Public into believing that interaction with Nature is the sole remit of experts. Todays world of Nature is served up to us by Television programmes and on printed page. The FREEDOM to search for that elusive specimen, to breed it, rear it, study it, is quickly becoming a thing of the past. In Britain everywhere one goes one is made to feel a criminal if one does not keep to the designated path. Warning signs abound on so called Nature treks preventing true interaction with the world around us. The onlooker is left to observe at a distance or perhaps through the camera lens. To attempt to TOUCH is at the risk of being labelled as in-human, even cruel!
While it is true sites of Scientific interest must be protected - at what cost? Such blanket protection is more often than not unbalanced and panders more to emotionalism and anthropomorphism than to pure science. The result is the rights of each and every human to interact with fellow creation have been diminished. Such supercilious even abject control only leads to animosity and sadly green fundamentalism, a word that grows in usage in many areas of life.
So "Butterfly Collectors" of today - Good or Bad? Our world is being destroyed not be breeders and collectors but by greedy commercial entities. The once untouched Countryside of Great Britain has slowly been transformed and scared by Intensive farming, industrialization and the automobile. In you live in Great Britain ask yourself how many meadows have been ploughed up for arable farming? How disorientated are Moths due to the immense light pollution? When you wash your car and remove the insect remains from your front grill and lights, how many of those kills where Butterflies and Moths?
You see the bottom line is the world is a mess! Those interested in active hands on Entomology both breeders, collectors and others are in themselves conservationist. Many active Lepidopterist plant trees, shrubs, flowers indeed whatever they can they will do for the benefit of native wildlife. Others work overseas educating those in poorer lands on how Butterfly and Insect Farming can be an alternative to slash and burn methods of survival. Such initiatives rely on western collectors to make the Rain Forrest viable resources. Every little helps, or would you rather see Central and South America one huge "Soya bean" field?
It is the hope of the Lepidoptera Breeders Association that the wonderful heritage of Entomology will continue. The awareness of the need for captive breeding, reference collections, and other hands on interactive study is not only the right of individuals but can and does work alongside Nature conservation.
We encourage all to take a fresh balanced look at the benefits of practical entomology and in particular the study of Butterflies and Moths. The joy of rearing a caterpillar and seeing the magnificent metamorphosis into adult imago is an experience no book, picture or T.V. programme can re-create. May we ALL work together to save our heritage and World.
FOB - Lepidoptera Breeders Association