GLOUCESTERSHIRE WILDLIFE TRUST WELCOMES GROUND-BREAKING CONVICTION OF BUTTERFLY COLLECTOR

Friday 7th April 2017

Large Blue (c) Sarah Meredith, Habitat DesignsLarge Blue (c) Sarah Meredith, Habitat Designs

A 57 year old man has today been given a six-month suspended sentence for illegally capturing and killing globally endangered large blue butterflies from Daneway Banks near Sapperton, Gloucestershire and Collard Hill, Somerset in 2015.

The once-extinct large blue butterfly was reintroduced to the UK in 1984 and flew in its highest numbers for at least 80 years in summer 2016, as part of a long-term conservation project.

In addition, Cullen has been ordered to carry out 250 hours community service and was made subject of a Criminal Behaviour Order, preventing him from visiting reserves Daneway Banks, Collard Hill and Green Down for the next five years.

The case is a breakthrough in the battle against wildlife crime; the first UK conviction for collecting a butterfly which is a European Protected Species. A member of the public witnessed Philip Cullen trying to catch the butterfly at Daneway Banks, a nature reserve jointly owned by Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust (GWT) and Royal Entomological Society (RES) and opened by HRH The Prince of Wales last year. His behaviour was subsequently reported to the National Wildlife Crime Unit.

On further investigation of Cullen’s home in Bristol, specimens of some of the UK’s rarest species of butterfly were found. Significantly, two large blues labelled ‘CH’ and ‘DB’ displayed in glass cases. While Cullen claimed this to be in reference to the colouring, experts suggested this is more widely used by collectors as a reference to the site a specimen is sourced.

After being alerted to the potential of collectors targeting Daneway Banks, GWT and Butterfly Conservation (BC) put an emergency action plan in place to monitor the site. In 2015 and 2016 volunteers from both organisations and members of the public came forward to patrol the reserve during the butterfly’s flight period; deterring criminal activity and reporting suspicious behaviour. The Trust hopes that the positive conviction will encourage more people to take a stand against wildlife crime.

Alan Sumnall, GWT Stroud Reserves Manager said:

“This case demonstrates just how important it is for individuals to report wildlife crime, and that collaborative efforts can result in a conviction. It is a wake-up call to the seriousness of wildlife crime and a message to those wishing to profit from its exploitation. Our supporters and conservation volunteers have played a critical role in this case. Without them, Cullen may not have been brought to justice.”

“For far too long, wildlife crime has gone under the radar and convictions have been disappointingly rare. But this is a victory for the people who have worked tirelessly to protect the large blue and for conservation as a whole. Our responsibility now is to continue the culture of standing up for wildlife, and we’re grateful to have the public’s support in doing so.”

Over 10,000 of the rare butterflies were recorded in south-west England in 2016, making it the largest concentration of large blues known in the world and proving it a hugely successful reintroduction. Partners involved in the Large Blue Project, include GWT, RES, BC, National Trust, Somerset Wildlife Trust, Natural England and University of Oxford.

On Daneway Banks, David Simcox, Large Blue Butterfly Project Officer said:

“Daneway Banks now supports the second largest population of large blues in the UK. It has taken years of hard work by GWT and RES staff and volunteers to create the right conditions for this rare and iconic butterfly and it is extremely disappointing that a butterfly collector has been caught operating here. Praise must go to the National Wildlife Crime Unit for their determination and diligence in pursuing this matter. Hopefully, the prosecution of this individual will act as a deterrent to other butterfly collectors in the future who target protected species on safeguarded sites.”

Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust is keen to hear from people who would like to support them in protecting the large blue and other species. If you would like to volunteer, donate or find out more about the work of GWT visit www.gloucestershirewildlifetrust.co.uk or call 01452 383333.