The Ringlet: Old and New Friends in the Bradford Area

The Ringlet is just one of several other butterflies that in recent years has made spectacular inroads into West Yorkshire. Though I had known about the lone colony in Ben Rhydding/Ilkley, which had been first noted in 1987, it was not until July 1996 that we visited the gravel pits. Exactly nine years later almost to the day we were to find it in the Boars Well practically in the centre of Bradford, a refugee from a truly awful Council sponsored makeover - the very worst we have ever seen - by the building company, Balfour Beatty of a strip of land which had once formed one side of the former Bradford canal. It had been designated a nature reserve some years ago and therefore safe from malling pillage. What an illusion! It is hard to say who was the most shocked, hardened cynics like ourselves or the vast majority who still naively continue to believe (but whose faith is daily increasingly shaken) that conservation is what it says it is and not a word that stands on its head, reflecting an inverted world. With its rows of neatly laid engineering bricks, the reconstructed Boars Well now seems a phoney eco side-show to the main business of shopping in the Forster Square Retail Park which it now overlooks, rather like the manner in which the River Don in Sheffield has been sanitised and smartened up as it flows past the precinct of the giant Meadow Hall shopping mall. But just down from this suffocating consumer emporium is a fabled series of fig trees growing on the river bank, now as much part of Sheffield's heritage as its derelict coking and steel furnaces and, what's more, unlikely as it seems, somehow growing up with them. I am reminded too of waiting for a lass in the evening sunshine in the overgrown sidings of the Forster Square railway station in 1993 and seeing a Common Blue hardly more than 50 yards from the main shopping centre. I never venture into the retail park that came to be built on that spot without thinking of that outpost Common Blue colony, now trampled underfoot by unspeakable rows of Adidas trainers.

     In this lengthy digression the Ringlet has been all but relegated to a few introductory remarks and the subject of these few pages instantly forgotten as I gave into the temptation to rail against shopping malls. However re-reading my notes I became aware how extraneous, but telling, incidents, encounters in the field, notes not just on habitat but on the built environment crept into my accounts and how not just the Ringlet but the lives of other butterflies were made larger by recalling these myriad details. I even thought fit to record how dreadful I sometimes felt and I vividly recall falling into a despairing, lethargic slumber in the Ben Rhydding gravel pits. Not wanting to ever wake up again I did so when a few feet from my face the grass parted and a Stoat poked its head out and looked around. It was enough to get me on my feet and search for the Ringlet once more. That night I thought of Shakespeare's injunction to 'hold a mirror up to nature' knowing I had passed the stage where it was enough to be a reflecting surface and which was also that of the arts in general. I was mirrored in nature and my depression was also a sign time was running out, not only for me but the Ringlets as well, and that the revolution I had dreamed of had failed to materialize and which doomed every living thing. To 'hold a suicide up to nature' seemed entirely apt: the mirror had shattered but the person behind it had been unable to step out from the frame and begin to put the world to rights.

     Every summer during the intervening years, come July, we relentlessly tracked the incoming butterfly as it made its way up the river Wharfe and then the Aire and finally into the heart of urban Bradford. And after every venture into the field I would, on returning in the evening, painstakingly record everything I could remember of the day. The reports were; to begin with, quite brief growing progressively longer as our familiarity with the butterfly grew. Some of the notes written at great speed, were practically undecipherable, others highly speculative as I pondered on this never to be repeated phenomenon unfolding before our eyes. I'm now glad I kept this record though I frequently doubted its validity at the time. I was reminded of so many half-forgotten details and as I laboriously typed up every entry from 1996 to 2005, I relived each day not just as it had been written down but also as if the habitats, where we chanced on previously unknown colonies of the butterfly, were before my eyes once more. Sleeping memories awoke within me of Sallow Willow and Birch saplings on gently inclining, grassy riverbanks, of rusting iron railings entwined with brambles and the gates we climbed over, of long defunct bits of winding gear where once there had been functioning locks, of jumping off busses at promising spots as we did one day just before Kirkstall Abbey in Leeds to almost immediately find a Ringlet, then another and another, in an uncultivated field by the Aire.

     We were privileged to be in the right place at the right time and we knew it. Those who come after us will never feel the same and experience the satisfaction of making discovery after discovery quite as we did, even though it was double edged, because nothing could hide from us the fact that, overall, butterflies were declining at an alarming rate. West Yorks may have bucked the tendency but for how long? Thus joy was always mingled with agonising reflections, which, like an endless tape, never ceased to remind us of the growing destruction. Oh! - How I wish that tape could stop. In Germany the Ringlet is known locally as the 'WaldTeufel' ' the forest devil - and the spread of the butterfly into areas it has never hitherto been recorded in could in the long run eventually turn out to be a harbinger of death rather than life.

     We were, of course, already familiar with the butterfly, which is common enough in the south. But in the south the actual butterfly had retreated behind its symbol, either as an illustration, photograph or description. It was simply there, an abstraction of a butterfly, and there seemed little we could add to what was already known about it, though we do recall noting how a couple continued to fly during a downpour on Banstead Downs on the outskirts of London. I was more concerned to establish the veracity of Frowhawk's description of the Ringlet as 'a peaceful butterfly' and compare it with other dazzling abbreviations of a similar sort to prove he was at least as good a 'nature writer' as he was an illustrator. For the past 40 years I have recoiled before the use of such terms as nature writer and the fact that Frohawk had no pretension to being one, and did not strive for effect, commended his 'writing' to me. For I ached for a writing that was not writing, breaking through all literary affectation and also able to fly off the printed page to become critique and a lead up to action. Obviously the thought never once crossed Frohawk's mind that such a longing would become essential even if only to preserve the butterflies and moths he loved so much, never mind the far wider issues now inescapably at stake.He may have called his daughter Valezina in honour of the lovely, dark form of the Silver Washed Fritillary that was once not uncommon in the New Forest. But he did not have to wrestle with the question of family break down and ponder the broader meanings that had accompanied the rise of entomology and promising a perpetual renewing of the world and life Keats had so astoundingly recognised in his 'Ode to Psyche'.

     However nonchalant our attitude was towards the Ringlet and other butterflies that would shortly begin to arrive in West and South Yorks we were, without knowing it, familiarising ourselves with their habits to the point of scarcely bothering to even accord them a second glance. But once they were in the north we looked as keenly at these new arrivals as if they had been born again. For in a sense they had. And that is when we started to become aware of subtle behavioural differences between north and south and, in the case of the Ringlet, pronounced morphological differences. Sometimes we would even hurry south to take a look at a butterfly in its more customary habitat to check to see if our observations and conclusions were right.

     But to return to the beginning. It all began on July 26 1996 when we visited the Ben Rhydding gravel pits in search of the only known Ringlet colony in the heart of West Yorks. As we were still new to the area we initially set off from Ben Rydding railway station through a wood that took us almost to the base of the Cow and Calf Rock. There were depressions in the ground but nothing that resembled a gravel pit and despite threading through thick grass fringing yet another of the interminable golf courses the area teems with, we rapidly came to the conclusion if Ringlets flew in this spot just below Ilkley Moor, it would be one of natures miracles. (In fact, 9 years later, they could well be here!) Looking around from our vantage point we noticed a sizable patch of uncultivated ground with willow thickets hugging the banks of the Wharfe far below. This turned out to be the gravel pits we were searching for though none of the local residents, barring one, we asked in Ben Rhydding had a clue as to their whereabouts. Within two minutes of entering the gravel pits we espied what we were looking for. And so began our love affair with this particular colony of Ringlets that with each passing year grew in charm and mystery as we vainly struggled to unlock its secret. The very first photos I took were of mating Ringlets something I had not seen, or chanced on, in the south. Moreover they were extreme varieties of the Ringlet, an arete and a caeca, the former with much reduced rings, the latter with rings that were mere pin heads or points of light, like distant stars in a dark sky. By 1999 we had convinced ourselves this was the most remarkable Ringlet colony in the entire country with the percentage of variation exceeding sometimes 80%. We came to this conclusion, and one we have not budged from, after reading a report by the Fords, father and son, published in the 1920s' in which they put the percentage of variation of a fairly isolated, 'pre-industrial', colony they had been studying in Cumbria at only 5%! So we had every reason to fear for the life of this precious colony. Sooner of later the immigrants from the south would arrive one day and impose normality upon this insurrection of a Ringlet colony that defied all previous reckoning. And arrive they did. But the expected process of dilution has yet to occur and this happy few appears, on the contrary, to have overwhelmed the invading hordes: on visiting the colony in 2005 we were astonished to find that, if anything, the percentage of variation had increased to near on 100%!

    And yet the entry in my diary that day is inauspicious and sparse: 26 July 1996. 'Scoured quarries below Cow and Calf for Ringlets. Eventually found them in gravel pits off Otley Rd.' Another entry three days later reads: 'Ben Rhydding. 29th July 1996. Ringlet, Cinnabar, Meadow Brown. Drenching rain, few minutes sunshine 2.30 to 4.30. Humid and overcast generally.' But my eyes had been opened to the ghostly presence of the butterfly in the region and on visiting, some two weeks later, Thorne Waste near Doncaster in search of the Large Heath, the entry reads: 'Thorne Waste. 12th Aug 1996. Brimstone, Hedge Brown, Small Copper on Tansy. Ringlet on path from Moorends to Thorne. Maybe a Ringlet on shale heap near Thorne Pit.' The inclusion of the Hedge Brown (or Gatekeeper) is significant because this butterfly was also beginning to make inroads into the region (and therefore worthy of note). Not infrequently we would find the two flying together (though the Ringlet invariably emerges at least three weeks earlier) as we sought, each year, to establish the exact degree of penetration of each butterfly into West Yorks. However with one very major, though untypical, exception which we maintain has everything to do with the rapid expansion of a pre- industrial colony which had retreated to higher ground over two hundred years ago, the Ringlets have clung to the Wharfe and Aire (and, presumably, Calder) riverbanks before then expanding onto higher, dryer ground. There is no such recognisable pattern to the Hedge Brown colonization. Singletons were glimpsed everywhere: a tattered specimen in Trench Meadows, Shipley in 1996, one typically seen ascending from the grass into young oaks by the side of Scholemoor Cemetery, Bradford in 1997, another in Plantation Wood practically on top of the Chevin as it slopes down to Menston in Wharfedale (I have an out of focus photo to prove it) in 1997. But these were all single spies and a further search did not yield another. This was never the case with the Ringlet and whenever one was seen, another would invariably be found after a close search in the immediate vicinity. Their colonization was altogether far more consistent and their ingress into the territory more like a supply line that became ever thinner the further away one got from the source. It certainly would be interesting to plot the Hedge Browns incoming cartography to see if a pattern emerges because there are still inexplicable gaps in its distribution. The same unfortunately cannot be said of the Speckled Wood. One year it was not here, the next year, 2003, it was everywhere by the late summer of this very hot year and no one knows quite how that happened.

    The following year 1997, we decided to pay a visit to Farnham gravel pits on the outskirts of Knaresborough, having heard reports the Northern Brown Argus had been seen there. Though we never saw any, taking it to be a case of mistaken identification, I vividly recall, on stepping off the bus that took us there, seeing Ringlets flying in relative abundance (I described it in my diary as 'Ringlets a-plenty') and mentally noting how dark they were. Henceforth tonal gradations would become a hallmark of whether the Ringlets we were looking at were pre-industrial stock or new arrivals from the south. This of course was a rule of thumb method and we certainly would not want to vouchsafe for its accuracy every time. However it was only now that I became really aware of just how light in comparison the Ben Rhydding Ringlets were, though in a note from the previous year I recently came across, I had commented on their 'spectral' quality and that they were 'smaller, more delicate, lighter in colour than the Ringlets I had observed in the south'.

    By 1999 we were getting obsessional, determined to be the first to track the Ringlets every move and position, and that of other butterflies, as they swept into the region. This was not just a once in a lifetime opportunity because this does not happen once every three score year and ten. Its time span is that of the 'late' Eocene Period ('late' depending on whether humanity survives or not) and it is no exaggeration to say that it marks mankind's most fateful turning point in his and hers entire three million years history. One would probably have to go back to the retreat of the last Ice Age and the dawn of the Neolithic revolution to experience, but only as regards natural history, anything similar.

    On the 17th of July 1999 I visited Shibden Head lying between Queensbury and Halifax. The notion that there might be another colony similar to that of Ben Rhydding had taken root in me and we had long thought when out searching for the incoming Green Hairstreak on the steep, bilberry covered, bank sides opposite, the grazed swampy flatland I was now walking across scattered with Marsh Thistle, ragged Robin and clumps of grass and Soft Rush, just may maintain a fugitive Ringlet colony. However that day I was out of luck and even come 2005 I have never been back to check if the Ringlet has finally made it. If it has, then, the chances are, it is part of the Ringlet migration that came up the Calder and was briefly bloocked by the town of Wakefield.  

   The next day, July 18th 1999, I returned to Ben Rhydding, more concerned to photograph Ringlets than investigate the colony further. I wasn't happy with the way in my earlier photographs the Ringlets seemed to float in mid air like they did in so many field identification guides. Though these photos undoubtedly had a presence - and one that I could only describe as a bit eerie - I wanted any future photos to say something about the environment these extraordinary Ringlets flourished in. I wanted the presence of trees and shrubs, of damp grass and flowing water, of something clammy and almost claustrophobic as if these Ringlets were afraid to venture forth. And in fact none did. During the nine years I have been watching the Ben Rhydding Ringlets I have never seen one come within 30 yards of the gate that leads on to the busy main road that is frequently referred to as 'the highway to the lakes'.

    Convinced, as others had been, there had to be a colony close by, I moved off to Otley gravel pits which has now been renamed Otley wetlands. But of course I found nothing and when I did stumble on that mythical 'other' colony it was not at all in the place I would have expected it to be. Even worse I was ordered off some 'private land': apparently I was a bad example to tenants on a nearby council estate, which just made my voice tremble and grow sharp with anger. But this was nothing compared to the number of imbecile reprimands I've had to endure since by people whose sole purpose in life is to accumulate money and property. And where better to do that than in the country? What ever has become of that buccaneering spirit that was once the stock-in-trade of an earlier breed of naturalist that took on gamekeepers and the landed gentry and that also drove, for example, Ray and Willoughby to Malham Cove and beyond, where some seventy years later even Daniel Defoe turned back from in dread.

    The following year, 2000, we were back once more in the Ben Rhydding gravel pits. On the 15th July 2000 we spent the entire afternoon there noting that though the numbers had increased, possibly through careful management, they still were keeping well away from the main thoroughfare. However we were well aware that in the south and even on roads around Knaresborough, traffic was no deterrent to the wayside presence of Ringlets especially if ditches ran alongside the road. (Mention of Knaresborough raises another point which we have never gone into sufficiently. And that is why was the Ringlet's progress up the Nidd apparently so effortless in comparison to that of the Wharfe, the Calder and especially the Aire?) There was something else we observed that day. And that was how variable the colony of Meadow Browns in the gravel pits was, as if there was some process of convergence at work or that was leading to a degree of intraspecific variation. Such cases have been reported in specialist lepidoptera magazines and have been explained as an instance of the fine-tuning of evolution. However we are still not certain if the variation to be seen in this altogether remarkable Ringlet population has any evolutionary significance or is just an instance of genetic freakiness. However more on this later though we rather think not.

    The following day the 17th of July 2000 we went to Addingham a few miles further up the Wharfe past Ilkley. We thought we might be in luck but finding nothing we returned to the gravel pits where we had spent such an unforgettable afternoon the previous day. Five days later on the 22nd of July 2000 we set out for Wetherby as we heard they had been seen there. Despite the overcast conditions we quickly established they were there beside the Wharfe. But how far up river from Wetherby were they? Walking up stream we noticed how they tended to hug the riverbank never venturing more than a few feet from it. I noted in my diary how they 'particularly liked to settle on the Common Sedge growing on the river margin' and 'when disturbed they would head off upstream' and on encountering an obstacle like 'a willow tree growing aslant the river, rather than alight on it they would endeavour to bypass it, thus moving up river all the while'. One could be forgiven for thinking their behaviour purposeful and outgoing when compared to that of the inward looking Ben Rhydding Ringlets, for something of the sort was taking place. Only once they were established could they be found in hedge backs, one, then two fields, etc. distant from the river. Though we were not aware of it at the time, this was the model of colonization and we found it confirmed over and over again as we followed the Ringlet into West Yorks. It is still probably true at the furthest limits of its continuing migration up river.

    We then moved on to Pool some ten miles inland from Wetherby. Arriving at Pool we walked over the bridge that separates West Yorks from North Yorks then along the riverbank. Though 'the weather was distinctly cool and cloudy' we managed 'to scuff up a tattered Ringlet around 4-45pm' somewhere between Pool and Arthington Viaduct which as a child I had thrilled to cross sticking our heads out of the train window we had opened in the tunnel, our heads swimming at the rows of blackened stone hurtling by as the carriage filled with smoke, blurring the interior and conjuring a vague new world we kids wanted to enter.

    Returning to Pool we were sharply reminded this was Pool, intolerant of any behaviour that was out of the ordinary. Searching for Ringlet on abandoned land next to a house by the side of the Wharf I became aware we were being watched by several people. Their black looks said it all and wafting across the evening breeze I heard mention of 'the Police'. And what likely looking desperadoes we were too, aged, with walking sticks and prematurely white hair! I found it deeply disturbing because it meant the growing absence of all ratiocination, or just plain common sense, in other words. And so a little further up the road toward Otley a rusting notice with the words 'private land' on it became a positive inducement to trespass: rabbits were to be seen hopping about on it so why should I be prevented from looking for Ringlets? I was simply not going to be intimidated by this brainless stupidity, convinced if there were more like us there would yet be hope for the world and life. The land was owned by Pool Paper Mills and a barely readable notice from 1981 stated that a sports and social club was to be built on the vacant land. And what I liked about it was its air of vacancy. It was treeless and spongy underfoot, a relief to walk on after paved roads and a bit like parts of Ben Rhydding gravel pits, though with nothing like the latter's bio diversity. Though we did not find any Ringlets I would be most surprised if they were not there now.

    I cannot remember if we walked from Pool to Otley or whether we caught a passing bus alighting a mile or so before the Otley boundary. I have no need to refer to my diary to remember what happened next. Jumping over a wall skirting the roadway and riverbank opposite Caley Craggs on the Chevin where we had discovered the Green Hairstreak in 1996, I began to strike the grass and scuffed up a pristine Ringlet. It turned out to have a slight pear shaped distortion to one of the underside rings: a semi lanceolata if you like. This was yet further evidence this was part of the southern influx because the ab. lanceolata tends to be found more in the south with the gradient between the arete and caeca more restricted to the north.

    I knew for a fact there were as yet no Ringlets immediately west of Otley and for the first time we began to consider what effect the built environment, towns and especially cities, had on the butterfly's expansion. How long, we wondered, would it take for the butterfly to get around, or through Otley, seeing how it stuck to the river in its initial forays up stream. But that was it for the day and we were very pleased at what we had found.

     Twelve days later on the 2nd of August 2000 we returned to Otley and found two very dished specimens between the allotments to the east and the parking lot belonging to Jefferies of Otley, a large haulage company. I would have liked a photo of a Ringlet with lorries in the background, not in order to savour the juxtaposition, but because that is how it was, the reality of it undermining the increasingly common notion, reinforced daily by made-for-TV nature movies, that nature is separate from our everyday lives and belongs only in the pages of magazines and on TV channels as an electronic equivalent. It is responsible, I believe, for the increased demonization (no less!) of the living naturalist whose example is a unceasing reproach to that assemblage of free electrons from which hatch 'electric butterflies' (Rimbaud) and continually asks we turn off the telly and go outside.

     On the following day the 3rd of August 2000 we returned to Otley to look for Hedge Browns this time. We found them on the fringes of the playing field on the north bank of the Wharfe to the east of Otley. Again I wished I had been able to get a photo off them with the Chevin clearly visible in the background, if only to relive the magic, in years to come, of being the first to recognize a butterfly in a place it had never been seen before. Alas, I was not even able to get a conventional photo of them, having settled way beyond my reach up in the trees. But we did see a couple of very dished Ringlets on the opposite bank to where we saw them yesterday. Of the three we had seen, one had reduced ring markings, but nothing like as reduced as those of an arete. Our main business of the day was to visit a promising bank side in Burley-in-Wharfedale we had glimpsed from the bus window. This we had taken to calling 'Son of Ben Rhydding' and we hoped by some miracle, the Ringlet might be there. It was in fact an artificial feature created when a bend in the Wharfe had to be straightened out to make way for a bypass road. We did wonder about the Marjoram and Kidney Vetch though not the expanse of Bird's Foot Trefoil on the opposite bank which was a common local plant. I noted in my diary: 'Time will tell if the Ringlet will fly here and if it is like the Ben Rhydding population with a high percentage of varieties'. In fact I was to find it here just under a year later on the 12th of July 2001.It was a singleton and immediately at any rate to me that it was not from Ben Rhydding because it was boringly normal though, as I noted, 'rather pale'.

    During the backend of 2000 we took it upon ourselves to make more space in Ben Rhydding for the Ringlet. This required we hack a way through the densely wooded fringes of the fishing lake due east of the gate and widen the path used only by the anglers so grass could grow more or less like it does by a ride. Again it was symptomatic of the Ben Rhydding population that they had not colonised, in the 13 years they had been there, a stretch of suitable open ground east of the fishing lake. For that to happen, conditions had to be just right. We feared the anglers would protest and, on that day, I have to say I gained a respect for them, because all we received from them was courtesy.

     On the 12th of July the next year (2001), I returned to inspect the fruits of our handiwork. I was disappointed not to find the Ringlets in the area we had made available to them. But, as if to underscore my newfound respect, I was approached by an angler who also called himself a 'naturalist'. Though a trifle irritated that I had to cease photographing temporarily, I learnt that the gravel pits had been worked right up to the late 1960s'. He also recalled there once had been a wooden house at the far end of the lake. Before it slid in to the lake, he would watch from the windows of this idyll of a house, the fish jumping. The magic of the place had invaded him as, for different reasons, it had me.

    The next day, the 13th of July 2001, after a more thorough inspection we moved on to 'Son of Ben Rhydding' in Burley-in-Wharfedale midway between Otley and Ilkley just as I had done yesterday. This time we found three Ringlets, all normal. There was now no doubting it: the Ringlets had got through Otley and we both wondered how long would it be before they reached Ben Rhydding and impose an uninspiring quotidian on this fascinating, aberrant population!

    But it was not until the 15th of July 2002 that I returned for a closer look, this time in the Otley gavel pits, since renamed the Otley wetlands. Three days earlier I had squelched through the water meadows between the Leeds Liverpool canal and the banks of the Aire a mile and a half due east of Shipley and found nothing. My diary entry for that day reads 'Steadily advancing though the Ringlet is up Wharfedale it has yet to make any headway up Airedale'.

   On entering the Otley wetlands I found the Ringlet almost immediately and in the spot where David reckoned it would be. But for some time not one would settle. So it took quite awhile for me to confidently say from the five Ringlets I was able to investigate, that this was a normal population and unrelated to the Ben Rhydding population. I also saw a Hedge Brown and a little while later I was to find a substantial colony of them flying side by side with the Ringlet in a clearing in a small wood to one side of the first flooded gravel pit. But I shall never forget this moment for another reason. I had undergone a major heart operation in early November 2001 and had been given a one in five chance of not surviving the operation. For the past couple of hours I had become increasingly conscious of painful constrictions across my chest. I had dismissed them as wound pains but by the time I had reached this clearing they were enough to force me on my knees. As I lay flat out on the ground staring upwards and thinking to myself 'this is it', I was aware of the spiklets on the end of grass stalks above my head and, far higher up, the blue sky and white clouds. This is how I had wanted to photograph butterflies, from below, not above, to at least approximate, if this is ever even remotely possible, to an insects eye view of the world. I was reminded too of the tree photographs of the Russian Constructivist, Rodchenko, who had simply placed a camera at the base of various tree trunks. Looking back, I am more than struck, during what seemed these final moments of my life, that not only was I thinking of people dear to me, but also of the beyond of art as foreshadowed by technicians such as Rodchenko, who, though betrayed by what they supported, believed passionately in a changed life and world.

     Somehow or other I managed to haul myself back to Otley and into hospital.

    Having recovered, seven days later I was back on the road. This time we wanted to check to see if the Ringlet had got through Leeds and was coming up the Aire. Alighting from a bus on the 22nd of July 2002 close to Kirkstall Abbey on what was generally a cool, overcast day with few sunny intervals we had found our first Ringlet within minutes. As I noted in my diary there was no reason to stay 'as we had proved our point (and) so we moved on up the canal' Though the banks of the Aire are virtually impassable from Leeds to Shipley, it hardly matters, as the Leeds/LiverpoolCanal runs pretty much alongside it. What follows is a list of our discoveries that day as recorded in my diary:


              Kirkstall Lock (between Kirkstall and Rodley)

              Abbey Pub: Newlay Bridge

              Forge Locks: we found them on the alluvial floodplain of the Aire at Rodley Sewerage Works  close by Newlay Locks and   Abbey Pub.

              Rodley Nature Reserve,  part of the Rodley water treatment works (i.e. Newlay Bridge site} run by the Wildlife and Wetlands Trust, Yorkshire Water, Ladywood and Water Co Ltd.Calverley Bridge: Farsley ring road (on the west of the ring road).

   But at Apperley Bridge, on the fringes of Bradford, our good fortune gave out and we had to wait until the following year to continue with our train of investigation.

    But it was dogged that does it and on the 5th of July 2003 I found two Ringlets in the water meadows between the Aire and the Leeds/Liverpool Canal, roughly a mile and a half due east of Shipley. Just under a year earlier I had failed to find them here. The discoveries were now coming thick and fast and on the 8th of July we set out for Bingley and Keighley and the site of the partially disused sewerage works, which I noted in my diary 'will, in time, be a huge colony. But at the moment they are absent' (fast forward, please, to 2005 when we did discover three - but no more than three -i n the sewerage works. So it is still very much in the balance whether my cavalier predictions will turn out to be true.) Returning to Shipley we then went on to push our way through, as best we could, the almost impassable meadows choked with thistles and dense grass opposite the Denso Marsten Reserve on the outskirts of Shipley. Here we succeeded in finding a couple of Ringlets, and, on crossing the Aire into the reserve, we were surprised to find a particular sooty specimen in the reserve. Prior to this we had failed to locate any on this side of the Aire so close into Shipley. However things were about to change. I was to make a discovery that would fundamentally alter our view as to how the Ringlet managed to spread, against all expectations, so rapidly in the Bradford area. It would also help in the framing of other questions we had been pondering since first seeing the Ben Rhydding population of Ringlets. And that is what role does natural selection play in the spread, or containment, of genetic aberration in very variable populations like the latter?


    It all began during the Xmas holiday period of 2002/2003. On a cold Winter's day we decided to pay a visit to the disused Woodhall Quarry. Just to say outside the Bradford boundary, it lies close to Eccleshill and the notorious Ravenscliffe Estate, though it is surrounded on three sides by a golf course. The Golf Club had been hungrily eyeing this natural paradise and informal recreational area for a long time and their say would ultimately prove decisive, though a number of local naturalists were cynically manipulated by Bradford Council into compiling reports on the quarry's natural riches in the belief everything was still to play for. It began to sleet while we were in the quarry and taking shelter closer in to the rock face, my eye was attracted to the dead stalks of what had been a flowering plant six months earlier. Convinced it was Tutsan (a rare plant in the wild in the Bradford area) I decided I would return during the growing season to see if I was right.

    I decided I would leave visitingBen Rhydding gravel pits until the next day. At a loose end I suddenly remembered the Tutsan, (if indeed it was Tutsan) would be in flower. And that is how I came to find a Ringlet population that I am convinced is a relic population left behind by the industrial revolution, one that had sought refuge in the hills above the grime and dirt of the valleys below. (For the actual details documenting the discovery see Woodhall Quarry pamphlet). This very small colony had, we believe, just to say clung on and had remained undetected until now, though in the meantime its numbers had greatly increased, profiting from the decline in smoke emissions in the Bradford area and global warming. After the initial excitement at finding a colony so high up, and which temporarily totally threw me, I became aware that it was a very variable population, managing to photograph an arete and caeca and, most interestingly of all, what I took to be an obsoleta - a total blinder of a Ringlet with no markings of any kind, not even a pin prick. I have since found out that it is possible for the upperside wings to be bare of any ring spots though they are present in varying degrees on the undersides of this, what at first sight appears to be, a no mark of a butterfly. I am unable to say for certain if this is restricted to aberrant populations like that of Woodhall and Ben Rhydding. However I am now convinced this is what Dr. Butterworth saw and recorded in Low Moor in 1947 and which Cyril Haxby, when he duly came across the index card, furiously struck out, writing 'Jurtina' (Meadow Brown) beside it instead. There was more than 'mistaken identification' at issue here or annoyance that if strict standards were not adhered to, records would become meaningless. This was also a veiled form of class conflict, for Haxby was only a greengrocer though a greengrocer with a mission and determined to prove himself. (The more I have got to know of the irascible Haxby over the years, the more I have come to like him and I was delighted to learn - in the Natural History Museum in London's South Kensington of all places - that he had lived just around the corner from my Mother. I imagine the garden of his little terraced cottage on Windermere Terrace was piled high with breeding boxes, for it was at once apparent to me that the cruel set of Ruby Tigers in his collection now in the Leeds Museum could only have been reared indoors from caterpillars, and, though labelled Ilkley Moor, these moths were too pristine and identical in shape and size to have been caught there.)

     As soon as I realised how variable the Woodhall population was, it was at once obvious to me this was the 'other' colony we had been searching for, a companion of Ben Rhydding and Lindley Woods in the Washburn Valley, though not, strictly speaking, of the still very dispersed Ringlets in the Aire Valley below, whose origins were entirely different. I had also on that day found an early-emerged colony of the Hedge Brown in the quarry and I was, later that summer, to actually see one on the busy Leeds Road and several in the fields at the back of Thornbury where the ground slopes down to the quarry. It should have been - and may still be possible - to literally string together a map of their thread-like expansion westwards from Leeds. For they are now in the Boars Well (Bradford), having, we believe, come over the top of a densely populated urban area, perhaps tarrying on uncultivated allotments or on grassy knolls behind the Hindu Temple on Leeds Road, Bradford 3, before dropping down into the centre of Bradford. They have not, for sure, come up from the Aire Valley, for they are still inexplicably absent from the fields around Shipley and the Leeds/Liverpool Canal tow path, though there is an expanding colony on Baildon Moor directly above Shipley. This digression has been helpful because the Ringlet is now in the Boars Well and, though it certainly has not come by the same route as the Hedge Brown, still less is it a tentacle of the Ringlet population pushing up the Aire Valley. Rather we believe it has its origin in the Woodhall Quarry colony. This was confirmed for us when, on the 15th of July 2005, as I wrote in my diary 'I was delighted to find a fully-fledged arete which proved however impossible to photograph, settling only briefly before it continued its restless flight'. The previous year, on the day (14th of July 2004) we had first found the Ringlet in the Boars Well, of the three we saw, one was a partial arete and another a very dished caeca, though I never got to verify the latter myself.

    Though it was obvious, from the very first day, that the Woodhall Quarry colony of Ringlets was large. I initially put it 'at over a 1000 but it well could be double that' this turned out to be a gross underestimate. We needed to establish the perimeter of the colony so on the 10th of July 2004 we set out to do just that. We first made for Woodhall Quarry then on into Ravenscliffe Wood then on (and on!) into Bill Wood and Round Wood. Everywhere we went we were finding Ringlets and I had to revise my estimate upwards. But not by a few hundred, or even a thousand, but by tens of thousands! An entry from my dairy observes 'to tell the truth I have never seen Ringlets flying in such abundance anywhere.' And the sentence prior to that reads: 'From the point of view of location it must be the most unusual site in Yorkshire' adding 'It was odd to see them flying on the fringes of the notorious Ravenscliffe Estate. I would have liked to have got a shot of one with a police car in the background or a bus or a house boarded up with sitex'. And not just because there is a need for butterfly realism in photography, and even a slightly forced butterfly social realism, for this was not just any Ringlet colony. In our considered opinion this was an ancient and venerable pre-industrial colony that, in recent years, had expanded enormously. The contrast was therefore even more remarkable.

    I also noted on that day; 'the partial arete seemed to be the commonest form'. The name stuck and we continue to use it as a quick guide to establish if the newfound Ringlets have their origin in Woodhall Quarry or elsewhere. However I do recall being disappointed that I did not see the range of variety I had expected to see which I had put at around 20% the previous year when I had discovered the colony. But we have yet to carry out a painstaking investigation of this extended - and rapidly extending - colony, to make a more accurate assessment of the degree of variation. The most one can do when probing for the Ringlets at the limits of its range, and precisely because those limits are being pushed back with each year that passes, is to take a cursory glance before moving on. However there is no denying this huge colony has altered our interpretation of the butterflies advance into the Bradford area. Shagged out after a day in the field I left off visiting Windhill above Shipley. But it is just as well my brother did for he found them there in the hedge backs. Prior to that they had been found by Susan Stead in Buck Wood and a few days later by ourselves in Poggy Wood, so it did make sense to take a look on Windhill. The next day we were to find them in the Boars Well and if it was not for the previous evenings find we would have been at something of a loss to explain how they got there.

   However there is no doubting the two populations, the old and the new, have met up just before Shipley and so the gene pool will become progressively more mixed. There are still discoveries to be made before the show is over and the butterfly completely blankets the area. Last year (2004) a singleton was seen just across the Leeds Rd opposite Shipley railway Station. This year (2005) Susan Stead found a tattered specimen in Shipley Station Meadow. I personally never thought it would get there because, in my opinion, the meadow was too dry, though we had seen a couple by the side of the 'mucky beck' that flows past the station on the opposite side to the meadow. We also found, on the 8th of July 2005, a small colony between Hirst Wood and Bankfoot in Bingley. They had not been there when David had last been here in 2002. In the mid-distance Windhill was clearly visible and as we had not, surprisingly, found any Ringlets by the banks of the Aire around Saltaire or in Trench Meadows, we assumed they had found their way there from Windhill. This colony also preferred being in the meadow fronting the Aire river bank. This was quite an unusual behavioural characteristic because generally it is the other way round. We also photographed a nearly normal Ringlet on the underside but whose upperside showed no trace of any spotting. Shades of the putative Woodhall Quarry obsoleta, circa 1947? But when we came to find them in Keighley on the 10th of July they had gone back to their old haunt and were sticking pretty much to the banks of the Aire, though we did see three just within the perimeter of the partially disused sewerage works. On the same day one of us saw a couple of dished specimen in Bingley South Bog and then failed to find any the next day. But the excitement was going out of the chase and the thrill of finding a colony in Heaton Woods and then in Northcliffe Woods on the 17th of July 2005, was just not the same as it was three years ago, though I was intrigued to see that their favourite spot in Northcliffe woods was in a ditch that runs along side the model railway, which was operating that day. The kids sitting astride the toy bogeys could have been me many, many years ago as the woods and miniature railway are the scene of one my earliest memori


A reason for everything? Reflections on Ringlet variations in the Bradford area

   My oldest book is 'Butterflies' by E.B. Ford. Though originally belonging to one of our eldest brothers, it has been, since we became interested in Butterflies and Moths around the age of ten, thumbed through countless times. Of course it was an impossibly difficult book for one so young to understand and I wish now I'd had help with it. To say the colour plates of variations appealed to me would be an understatement. No matter how moved I was by contact with nature, these plates were nature at its most intense and I would become lost in wonder staring at them, for they meant more to me than reproductions of paintings. By and large Ford's example was never followed and by providing many different examples of the hyperantus and, for purposes of comparison, other Ringlets, we believe we are following in his footsteps.

   However Ford's great book - the best ever on butterflies in Miriam Rothchild's opinion - has, over the years, deeply influenced my outlook in other respects. In particular that everything in nature was there for a reason, an evolutionary reason, and if only we could understand the process of natural selection we would eventually see nothing had been left to chance or allowed to evolve at random and just be there, lacking any purpose and design. In Britain especially, the country of Darwin's birth, this aim was pursued with an almost religious fervour recalling the credo ut intelligam of rationalist theologians like Aquinas and Augustine such that in the Hall of Science a shrine to natural selection was involuntarily erected. This criticism is not a nod in the direction of creationism. Heaven forbid! Rather it is an acknowledgement that ultra-Darwinism and creationism have one thing in common: the need to find an underlying purpose in everything, with failure to do so constantly threatening to unleash a primordial chaos.

    Over the years this approach has become second nature to me, and in my eagerness to second guess nature, caused me to see things that in reality may not be there And so when I became aware of the degree of variation in the Ben Rhydding and, to a lesser extent, in the Woodhall Quarry Ringlet populations, I was convinced there had to be a reason for it. I have since racked my brains as to what these (evolutionary) reasons are. And all I can do is set out the conclusions I have arrived at so far, though they far from convince me. However, after reviewing all the arguments, all I can say is that in my uncertainty extremes have met, and that my failure, until such times as better arguments are advanced, must be counted a success, and not a descent into chaos.

1. I knew that a line dividing north from south could be drawn through the country and that north of this line the arete/caeca gradient could be found whereas in the south the commonest variation was the ab. lanceolata. However I know this is not a hard and fast rule and though there not just for the sake of convenience, needs to be re-examined. I have heard that in Lindley Woods above Otley and below the high moors at Fewston there is a variable Ringlet population. It was discovered on the second half of the nineties and in my opinion is the source of the Ben Rhydding population. I have heard also that the ab. lanceolata is to be found there, as are the ar'te and caeca forms of the Ringlet. I regret to say I have never inspected the Lindley colony of Ringlets and intend to put right this serious omission at the earliest opportunity.

     When taking a look at the Porrit/Morley collection from the 19th Century in the Tolson Museum in Huddersfield, I noticed amongst the arete/caeca gradient there was, in one of the boxes, an ab. lanceolata. All the butterflies had been caught around Castle Howard near Malton in North Yorks. However we have been unable to find out how long it took to amass this carefully arranged gradient or what was the ratio of variation including that of the ab. lanceolata to that of the normal form. And for all we know there may be in existence collections of butterflies from the south and southwest that demonstrate a similar gradient. But somehow we rather doubt it.

2. Could the extremely high percentage of variation in the Ben Rhydding population (we put it at close to 100% in 2005!) be accountable in terms of genetic drift? The Ben Rhydding population has for years been a very isolated population and, as is well known, aberrations have a much easier time of it in isolated populations than in populations that are constantly subject to a general reckoning. They can sweep through an isolated population in a matter of generations until normality (and health) is restored once contact is made again with the outside world. Ford, unsurprisingly had no truck with this view and his analysis of the varying morphology of a Marsh Fritillary colony over the years resulted in a head on conflict with the American, Sewal Wright, who had first advanced the theory of genetic drift. At the same time as Ford had been collecting his invaluable and fascinating data on the Marsh Fritillary, he had also been studying a variable colony of Ringlets near Carlisle. It is a pity he had not mounted a similar defence that went into the whys and wherefores of the Ringlet variations because there is no doubt in my mind it would have been packed with insight. Though a now very threatened butterfly, the Marsh Fritillary is (or was!) prone to extreme fluctuations in number and has been known to strip the earth bare of its food plant, the Devil's Bit Scabious, thus causing the colony to perish or very nearly perish. Ringlet numbers are far more stable and population crashes are infrequent, except following a dry summer like that of 1976. However their numbers were little affected by the hot summer of 2003. And if the numbers of Ringlets have increased in Ben Rhydding this is down to sympathetic management, the clearing of shrubs enabling more grass to grow etc.

    We were dreading the arrival of the southern invaders, fearing a bland normality would eventually be imposed on the Ben Rhydding population. Though the genes coding for the variation would have stayed within the population we felt their frequency would be reduced with the variations becoming fewer and fewer in number over time, depending on the amount of migration in and out of the colony. But so far this has not happened. Seeing the Ringlet is now well established downriver in Burley in Wharfedale and upriver in Addingham it is unlikely it has given Ben Rhydding a miss. And yet, if anything, the incidence of variation has increased. This of course may change over the coming years, especially if there is a much bigger expansion in the number of normal Ringlets around Ilkley. But for the moment it would be premature to dump the notion the Ben Rhydding Ringlets are being selected for. And yet this abnormally high ratio suggests otherwise and I was staggered to learn that (as already mentioned above) that the Fords' put the percentage of variation in their Carlisle colony at merely 5%. Maybe only time will tell if the Ben Rhydding population is a phenomenon of adjustment to the environment or a freak imposition upon it?

    As part of the Bradford Woodhall Quarry defence campaign we produced two small pamphlets that emphasised the importance of the quarry's Ringlet population and why the quarry should be left just as it is. Though the matter of its development had been decided on long in advance, Bradford Council aided and abetted by green mercenaries like P Bowler (also a former Guardian eco and conservation reporter who once described himself as a 'shit stirrer') cynically went through the motions of pretending everything was still to play for. As the first variation I had photographed, when I had discovered the population in July 2003, had been a caeca, I decided to take a closer look at all the other species of European Ringlets to see if anything could be gained from that.

   Ringlets belong to the Satyridae and the 45 or so species of European Ringlet are accounted amongst the genus Erebia like our Erebia epiphron, the Mountain Ringlet. They occur in montane regions though will fly at sea level the further north one goes. The Mountain Ringlet can be found on sand dunes in the north of Scotland but the only place one will find it in the Lake District is on mountain tops. During past ice ages the budding Erebia genera would most likely have occupied lowland districts that were free from ice, seeking refuge, with the retreat of the ice sheet, in hill and mountain fast nets. Some are very closely related, so much so it is impossible to distinguish one from another except by examining their genitalia under a microscope. This implies they have evolved into separate species only very recently following the classic path laid down by evolution - that of geographical isolation.

    Though the subject of this paper, the Aphantopus hyperantus, (i.e. 'our' Ringlet) belongs in the Satyridae, it is never included amongst the Erebia or even figured immediately after indisputable members of the genus, despite morphological similarities. Rather it will generally be figured alongside Meadow/Hedge Browns and other similar species. Contrary to normal practises I have taken the liberty of doing this simply because I have been struck by the remarkable similarity there exists between some species of European Erebia Ringlets (in particular the White Speck Ringlet - Erebia claudina - and to a lesser degree the False Dewy Ringlet - Erebia stbennyo and Large Ringlet - Erebia eurale - all, incidentally montane species) and specimen samples of the arete/caeca gradient of the Aphantopus hyperantus ('our' Ringlet). I am also prepared to stick my neck out even further and maintain that rather than retreating onto higher ground with the ending of the last ice age it did the reverse and stayed put, adapting successfully to the warmer conditions. This also explains why the hyperantus is not found with many kindred shades of similar looking species like the genus Erebia and maintains a consistency throughout its wide range: it never came up against any significant geographic barriers likely to result in further speciation.

   Seeing how it is conventionally bracketed alongside Meadow Browns, Graylings etc hyperantus is also unique in not possessing a conspicuous apical eyespot on the top underside wing it can flash whenever it feels threatened. Its way of behaving is therefore significantly different. For example when it folds its upper wing under the lower it is little more than that and has no further trick up its sleeve. Rather it is dependant for its protection on its crescent of ring spots on the on the upper and lower under side wings. These are rings, not eyespots, and more like targets on an archery range, directing predators to 'take aim' not 'watch out'. The presence of prominent underside rings is, I believe, an indication of habitat in which insectivorous birds are common, unlike on exposed hill or mountainsides where raptors rule the roost. However amongst the Erebia some have none, some a few specks, others (very few) with arete - like reductions, still others with scarcely more than a suggestion of rings and finally others in which the rings have been replaced by faint dashes. When at rest, with their wings closed, all of them would merge into the background, making it less easy for predators like spiders, birds or shrews to spot them. And all of these inhabit upland areas with open grassland, light woodland, bare rock and exposed earth. Where Erebia butterflies have, in a couple of cases, ring markings somewhat similar to the hyperantus (like in the Dalmatian Ringlet - Protorebia afra - though never as pronounced) they are described in field guides as tending to inhabit wooded, low-lying areas. The contrast in habitat and concomitant reduction in wing spotting in the case of the Arctic Ringlet (Erebia disa) and the Arctic Woodland Ringlet (Erebia polaris) is very pronounced. Ring markings are practically absent in the Arctic Ringlet; unlike in the Arctic Woodland Ringlet whose underside has ring spots. However the former inhabits moors and damp grassland in and around the northern birch forests usually above 1150ft, whilst the latter inhabits lower land and is often common in coastal areas and most likely subject, therefore, to increased predation by the many birds that inhabit the coastal margin. Before concluding this lengthy paragraph, I would like to draw attention to the False Ringlet (Coenonympha oedipus) which cuts a swathe through central Europe from the Atlantic coast to Hungary and beyond. It is an endangered butterfly because of habitat loss from drainage but when the wings of the male are open it looks surprisingly like our hyperantus. When closed the butterfly carries from seven to nine very conspicuous yellow ringed eye spots on its under wings. It almost appears to be offering itself as a target, spending much of the time at rest with its wings closed. Despite appearing to be provocative, pronounced rings like these have to be a successful adaptation otherwise they would not be there: what is true of the False Ringlet must also be true of the normal form of the hyperantus. I first came to these conclusions when putting together 'The open letter to Susan Stead' part of the doomed Woodhall Quarry defence campaign They seemed to me then - and still do - important and the more I think about it, the more I feel I am on the right lines, even if they make no immediate sense when applied to the continuing high percentage of variation in the Ben Rhydding colony. On this occasion I gained more from leafing through books on European butterflies than I did from observing in the wild, for it would take several lifetimes to become thoroughly familiar not with every butterfly but even all 45, or so, European Ringlets.

3. I came up with other closely related hypotheses. These were the result of observation - if not as close as I would have liked - and so were anything but fanciful constructs. Though again I cannot fully commit myself to any of them, each is, I maintain, a part of the truth (an Hegelian might say 'a partial truth' but nonetheless a truth) and which needs to be weighed against the existence of other factors. Rather than a perfunctory discarding of less satisfactory explanations, the truth about the Ben Rhydding Ringlets would consist in a judicious adding up of these partial explanations, even though some directly contradict others. As a methodology this approach does not recommend itself to a tidy scientific mind, having more in common with a fluffy philosophy of nature. And yet it seems to me the best approach, for in a case like the Ben Rhydding/Woodhall Quarry/Lindley Woods Ringlets, I can think of none that is more valid. We simply do not have enough information, and probably never will, and what we do have is open to question. For a start we know next to nothing about these allegedly pre-industrial populations or what effect late 18th and 19th Century coal burning industries had upon the Ringlet, as it was chased out of its traditional breeding grounds in the valleys (e.g. around Bradford/Leeds or the Scottish Lowlands) to find refuge on remote hillsides as far as possible from the madding smoke. Can the arete/caeca gradient be traced back to this event and were colonies established at the edge of, or just above the tree line, meaning a progressive absence of spotting could prove a lifesaver? (This tree line would be largely man made and not natural, as the hilltops and moors would have been cleared of woodland long ago, a clearance that would have changed the eco-system including the bird population) Or, to go back even further in time, does the arete/caeca gradient hark back to the origin of the Ringlet as a species and is its ancestral form, prior to habituating itself to the lowlands, where the possession of pronounced rings on the underside would be a real survival asset' All well and good ' except how do we then explain the arete/caeca gradient in the Porritt/ Morley collection all caught in the low lying areas around Castle Howard in North Yorks which, 70,000 years ago, formed part of a huge lake that eventually drained away through the Devil's Elbow and out into the North Sea where Whitby now stands. Do we reject awkward details like these as exceptions that prove the rule? Or do we give them their due, admit our ignorance, and contentedly sink back like any thorough-going empiricist, knowing further questioning will get us no where? Unable to find answers, our only alternative is to seek refuge in aesthetic pleasure as an end in itself and a delight in rare beauty for its own sake , which, in any case, is predicated on the existence of a common beauty, the normal form, and definitely not something to get too worked up over. But I doubt if anyone is able to find this an everlasting satisfaction or without feeling the urge to ask further questions before long.

    On a visit to the Ben Rhydding gravel pits on the 14th of July 2002 I had on re-reading my diaries, noted 'I got the impression the high percentage of varieties was declining into a roughly 50/50 ratio'. The word impression is in italics because in 2005 we came to the opposite conclusion. However further on I had added that the arete and caeca forms were very dished and that it was the normal form that looked the fresher of the two. It then suddenly occurred to me this was an example of assortative mating and that the variations had emerged several days before the normal form. Hence the chances of cross-fertilization would be considerably lessened and instead of the feared intermingling, a measure of genetic segregation would tend to result. The determining factor in this case would be temperature, with the variations more adjusted to cooler conditions especially as regards the southern invaders. To an organism as delicate and responsive as a butterfly, a temperature difference of one degree can make all the difference. I am not now as sure as I was then, but still feel the idea is worth pursuing further.

    This led on to a further hypothesis. And that is the possibility of a balanced polymorphism with neither of the two forms able to clean up completely and if they did, it would eventually be to the detriment of both. Though the Ben Rhydding colony may be unique with features that are not replicated elsewhere, we do know that in more established colonies where variation occurs on a regular basis, it does so at a fairly constant level. How much does the environment contribute to this, and, if it does, is it because the environment is subject to variation, perhaps in ways we are not sensitive to but the butterfly is? Variation could then be a form of insurance against environmental stability, not change. E.B. Ford believed polymorphism was 'very seldom' due to environmental variation, incidentally dismissing graded character differences 'like in the Ringlet' as an example of this because the contrast was not sharp enough. However since he wrote this there can be no doubting that knowledge of the needs of butterflies has grown with the growth of the conservation movement, which in Ford's day was non-existent. Increasingly close observation has required an imaginative leap, causing us to try and cross, at least mentally, the species barrier in the interest of greater scientific accuracy. I for one would be most interested to learn if field entomologists, in the pursuit of a more environmentally sensitive materialism, have reported 'out of the body' experiences, as if they themselves had become butterflies.

    However in the case of Ben Rhydding we are not dealing with what, for us, are environmental minutiae but with environmental stress on a grand scale I have seen Ben Rhydding under water several times. Sometimes when in spate the river Wharfe has raged over it and I have doubted if any living thing other than fishes and amphibians could have survived such a drenching. Yet six months later more or less, come July, the Ringlets were out and about as if nothing had happened. But to me it was a miracle the little caterpillars, the size of trimmings from cotton thread, could have survived this prolonged ducking. So I began to wonder if other physiological characters were not in play and linked, in some way, to the reduction in spotting and dependent on polygenes, which code for a number of characters. What had stopped the caterpillars from drowning especially as they were hairless' However bizarre my speculative answers I think I was putting the right

However this is where I propose to stop for the moment.

                   Stuart Wise. September 2005


   Ringlet Variations in the Bradford area 2005

   Below: Great Horton Country Park, Bradford            

 1 2 3

The above specimen was photographed in Great Horton Country Park, Bradford 7 on July 5th 2005. It was a cold day and the five found were the first of the year's emergence. Note the size of the rings on the upper wings, in comparison to the normal form, is much reduced. Especially note the ring where the centre spot has disappeared from the right upper ring, but not from the left.




The above Ringlets were photographed close by a day later on July 8th. The rings around the centre spot on the underside of the upper wing are diminished and sometimes lacking the centre spot. This aberration, which we call a partial arete, is far more common in the Bradford area than the 'typical' Ringlet.



On returning to the Park on July 14th and possibly close to the butterflies full emergence, a much greater range of variation was immediately in evidence, including a 'full' arete and caeca (see fig 7 and 9).  This colony is not as variable as the one in the disused Ben Rhydding gravel pits.

Below: The gravel pits, Ben Rhydding.

July 9th 2005







    The above extreme Ringlet variations were photographed at Ben Rhydding gravel pits on July 9th 2005. This very isolated colony is undoubtedly the most varied in Britain. As yet it still appears to be uncontaminated by the southern influx. Either that or the variations are peculiarly adapted to the situation and the expected process of normalization  or dilution in the very high number of variations, does not occur and, on the contrary, it is the southern influx that undergoes a (local) adaptation. Three years ago the high percentage of variations, reaching we believe close on 90%, appeared to be declining quite precipitately, especially since the normal southern influx had arrived on the banks of the Wharfe at Burley in Wharfedale, barely a mile way. The percentage of variations is certainly way higher than the Cumbrian colonies like at Ive Gill studied by the Fords'  (father and, eventually to be famous, son) where we were most surprised to learn the percentage averaged only 5%. The presence of the  full, arete was noticeable whilst caeca and 'extreme' caeca ' at least in 2005, made up over 20% of the population. Does the ab obsoleta (an absence of all spotting) exist in Ben Rhydding? One cannot know for sure until both the upper side and underside wings have been examined for ring markings. And there are forms where the upper side of the wings are devoid of rings and the underside is not, the source we believe of the confusion which led Butterworth to describe the putative Ringlet that he saw in Low Moor, Bradford in 1947 as an ab obsoleta. This form exists at Woodhall quarry and Butterworth may well have seen a stray from what was then, we believe, a very small population that was just to say clinging on. Note the lone but prominent white spot on the left upper side of the above extreme variety (fig 11) and comet like streak on the right upper wing of another (fig 14). The whitish patch work effect on another upper side (fig 15) is most likely somatic in causation and hence not reproducible in filial generations, unlike the other genetic variants.

Below: Woodhall Quarry: (near Ravenscliffe Estate)




Visit and conducted walk for Bradford Urban Wild Life around Woodhall Quarry. The markings are those of a partial arete although the far right photo displays a slight pear shaped distortion illustrative of the far more pronounced lanceolata variation more typical of southern populations. The colony is characterized by a pronounced rift between the much lighter, older ('pre-industrial') northern Ringlets and the darker chocolate to sooty (male) forms of the southern invaders. When the colony was first discovered in 2003, the variation appeared to be far greater than in 2004/5. However since its discovery the colony has only ever received a cursory inspection so it is impossible to say if there has actually been a diminution in the number of variations.

Below: Banks of the Aire beneath Nab Wood, Bingley   


New colony found on July 8th 2005. The butterfly has passed through Shipley and is beginning to found new colonies to the west of the last major urban area before the high Pennines. The partial aretes figured above predominates and suggests that the parental colony may well be that of Woodhall Quarry which, in recent years, has expanded from the high ground where, we believe, it had taken refuge above the 'soot line' during Bradford's paleo-industrial era.   


Below: European Ringlet Photos: Comparisons?


White Speck RingletRingle

(1) White Speck Ringlet. Erebia claudina,
Habitat: montane grassland  Above 5900ft (1800M)

(2) ab caeca. Ben Rhydding, Female underside 
Ilkley. West Yorks.2005 
White Speck Ringlet Male UndersideCaeca
(3) White Speck Ringlet. Male underside 
(4) ab caeca.Gt.Horton. NB: white
specks are more distinct than fig 2 
Large Ringlet Ringlet
(5) Bright Eyed Ringlet. Erebia oeme,    
Female underside. Habitat rough grassland
and open woodland from 2950ft (900)
(6) Partial ab.arête. Bingley. Bradford. 2005    
False Ringlet Male Underside Ringlet
(7) False Ringlet Erebia stennyo.  
Minor ab.Lanceleolata. Woodhall Quarry 
(8) Ringlet. Aphantopus hyperantus
Habitat: French Atlantic coast and other low-lying
areas of Central Europe. Under threat from drainage of building land. Bradford. June 2004
Dalmation RingletRinglet
(9) Dalmation Ringlet. Protorebia afra
Female underside. Habitat: Rough grassland
mainly on the coast.   

(10) ab.arete from Ravenscliffe. Mating with normal form.
Bradford June 2004

Arctic Ringlet Arctic Woodland Ringlet
(11) Arctic Ringlet. Erebia disa. Habitat: moors
and damp grassland usually above 1,150ft (350m).
Scandinavia and throughout arctic region
(12) Arctic Woodland Ringlet. Erebia polaris.
Habitat: rough grassland in and around birch forests
from sea level to 975ft (300m)
False RingletRingle
(13) False Ringlet Erebia stennyo
Female upperside
(see fig 7 for more general details)
(14) Ringlet Aphantopus hyperantus. Female upperside.
NB: Note ring on left upper side. Gt Horton. Bradford 2005

   We believe selection pressures are ultimately behind the reduction in ring markings in the arete/caeca gradient of the Ringlet. It will be seen that elevation and habitat tend to produce a comparable reduction in ring markings in other European species and the main adaptation pressure must come from the butterfly's predators, particularly birds in lower regions and shrews and spiders in higher regions that would be attracted by distinctive markings like a semi-circle of ring spots. On this reckoning the very high percentage of variation in Ben Rhydding, West Yorks cannot long remain so, but we may be wrong and in fact we rather hope we are.