Hermit butterfly fieldwork in action - A Rocha France, Courmettes - 2022 July

The Hermit of Les Courmettes

One night in early June, a group of volunteers kitted out with head lamps were on their knees in a field at Les Courmettes, marvelling at the sight of a particular nocturnal caterpillar – that of a Hermit butterfly Chazara briseis.

In fact, two Hermit caterpillars were seen this season! While that may seem a low number, it is actually excellent news, as sightings are very rare. The Hermit is a species about which very little is known, and which is under threat both regionally and nationally in France. The Courmettes team launched a study protocol focusing on the Hermit species as part of France’s National Action Plan on butterflies.

As adults emerged, from mid-July to mid-August, our attention turned to answering such questions as: how big is the population on site? What is the average lifespan of this butterfly? How far does it travel? How does it use the site? We did this through a technique called mark-recapture. The hope is eventually to compile our data with regional (and potentially interregional) data in a population genetics study, finances permitting.

This year we marked 82 individuals – great news for the Hermit population of Courmettes! The next step is to analyse the data, but here are some first observations:

  • Only males emerged in the first week of study; females emerged from the second week. After that, males and females emerged at the same rate.
  • 41% of the individuals were recaptured at least once; some up to six times! Some individuals stayed in the same spot while others travelled further.
  • Individuals captured at the end of the season travelled further than the early individuals.

We even witnessed individuals mating (bonus film here!) – evidence that the cycle of life continues. We still know very little about the host plants the Hermit prefers – come and join us in the 2023 season in our caterpillar hunt!

Photos: Hermit butterfly fieldwork in action – A Rocha France, Courmettes – 2022 July 


Bringing back the Black-breasted Button-quail

2021-2030 is the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration – a global call to heal our planet and A Rocha projects around the world are making a significant contribution.

In Australia, A Rocha is working with Friends of the Escarpment Parks (FEP) Toowoomba at Redwood Park – a 243-hectare property on the eastern slopes of the Great Dividing Range – to tackle invasive weeds that threaten to destroy endangered ecosystems like the semi-evergreen vine thicket by climbing and smothering the trees. On the forest floor, it can become difficult for ground-foraging animals and birds to feed, like the nationally vulnerable Black-breasted Button-quail Turnix melanogaster. This button-quail has a characteristic feeding habit: it turns on alternate legs as it scratches in the leaf litter to make a circular feeding scrape. Fresh scrapes are a good indicator that button-quail are present in the area.

In late 2020, a small team of A Rocha Australia volunteers started working alongside FEP to control major weeds at Redwood Park. Every month, they have been working at the site to weed out the invasives in the vine-thicket. The benefits for button-quail have sometimes been immediate, with fresh feeding scrapes being seen throughout the weeded areas the following day. Remote cameras have also confirmed that the button-quail are breeding in the park!

The challenge now is to complete weeding in a sizeable section of the scrub and establish a longer-term plan to maintain the habitat for button-quail and other animals.

Photo: Black-breasted Button-quail (Aviceda, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Mapping the world’s coral reefs

Understanding where coral reefs are and monitoring their changes is an important part of conserving these special marine habitats. Although they occupy just a small proportion of the world’s oceans, they harbour an enormous diversity of marine life. They also support the livelihoods of fishing communities and protect coastlines from the damaging effects of climate change.

On the doorstep of A Rocha Kenya’s field study centre, Mwamba, lies Watamu Marine National Park. Established in 1968, it is one of Kenya’s oldest marine parks. Over a period of three months, A Rocha Kenya’s marine team checked coral reefs in the park assigned to them by the the Allen Coral Atlas project and then used their SCUBA gear and research boat ‘Tewa’ to document specific details, such as percentage coral cover. Their data contributed to the development of a global map of coral reefs.

In September, maps of the world’s tropical, shallow coral reefs were completed, marking a major milestone for the Atlas. Thanks to this global collaboration of more than 450 teams who led expeditions and contributed data, we have information about this marine ecosystem in unprecedented detail, which are downloadable and accessible to all. Now organizations like A Rocha Kenya have a new tool to guide their conservation efforts.



Shellfish harvesting in Semiahmoo Bay

Through the site of A Rocha Canada’s Brooksdale Environmental Centre runs the Little Campbell River – also called Tatalu in SENĆOŦEN, the language of the Semiahmoo First Nation people, whose traditional territory extends across the entire watershed.

The river flows into Semiahmoo Bay, which has historically been a shellfish harvesting site for several coastal communities, including the Semiahmoo First Nation. However, in recent decades, high fecal coliform levels in the bay have made it unfit for shellfish harvesting and the First Nations communities have been forced to abstain from practices that are integral to their cultures and traditional food security.

A Rocha Canada is working alongside Semiahmoo First Nation and other members of the Shared Waters Alliance to monitor water quality in several locations along the Tatalu and its tributaries. One of the starting points is to examine factors that are generally known to contribute to high fecal coliform levels in waterways, such as septic system discharges, runoff from agricultural land containing livestock waste, cross-connections between storm and sewage pipes, and pet waste. Alongside this research and monitoring, A Rocha Canada is working with landowners and local municipalities to discuss the extent of the issue and how to combat it. Our hope is that the Semiahmoo First Nation can one day resume the shellfish harvesting practices that have been such an integral part of their culture.

Photo: Tim Hall

Marine sampling in Southern France - Jo Calcutt

Taking on marine plastics

Plastic pollution continues to be a global problem. There are many ‘how to’ resources, but fewer that examine the role plastic plays in our Christian life. A Rocha’s Lead Marine Scientist Dr Robert Sluka has written a new Grove booklet called Marine Plastics which we hope will be useful for better understanding how plastic can play a positive role in healing our relationships: with God, each other, nature and ourselves. Copies can be ordered from the Grove Books website.

The booklet is a short examination of how plastic can heal or hurt relationships. Dr Sluka (Bob) examines plastic pollution considering biblical texts and the writings of several theologians, including Michael Northcott, Ellen Davis and Pope Francis. The epilogue looks at plastic in an age of Covid and broadens the discussion to Christian relief and development. The book points readers to A Rocha’s Plastics Toolbox for resources on how to practically address plastic pollution wherever we live.

Bob will be talking about his Grove booklet at an online event on 16 September. Register today to hear him speak and bring along your burning questions. Many A Rocha organizations will be conducting a plastic cleanup in September and taking part in the Great Global Nurdle Hunt in October. Contact your national office to find out what they are doing. If there are no events near you, perhaps you could lead one yourself and invite everyone along! Plastic is not the only issue impacting our planet, but it is one that we all need to be a part of solving.

Nurdles are tiny plastic pellets used as the raw material for making many of our plastic products. Photo: Benjamin Kelsey

Image of beach sampling by Jo Calcutt