If you are a birdwing butterfly, it’s a positive time to be alive (and that’s really saying something of a threatened species in current times). From our view on the ground amongst it all, the Richmond Birdwing Conservation Network (RBCN) has noticed a groundswell of activity across south-east Queensland aiding the recovery of this remarkable species, the cumulative impact of which is bound to be strengthening the Richmond birdwing butterfly’s chances of besting extinction. We wanted to seize this opportunity to share the good news…
Almost two decades later, this positive outcome is the result of the huge effort put in by early members of the network to raise awareness of the extinction risk faced by the species. Not only were they successful in identifying and communicating this risk, they provided a solution: to plant the butterfly’s host vine in strategic locations. Not often is the solution to saving a species so tangible.
Having heard the message, thousands of birdwing butterfly vines were (and continue to be) planted by community groups, local councils, schools and individuals across the butterfly’s natural range, the outcome of which has been an ever increasing biomass of vine leaves available for female butterflies to lay eggs on and their larvae to chew through. The even better news? This outcome can only improve over time as every single vine that is planted grows taller.
Whether due to an increase in vine population or recent favourable climatic conditions (it is difficult to know) 2018 has also been a bumper year for birdwing sightings. The RBCN Facebook page is full of pictures and posts from members showing off the birdwings in their backyards, and we have received many emails and phone calls recently reporting sightings.
Amazingly, a gentleman from Coopers Creek in Northern NSW observed over 30 individual Richmond birdwings on callistemon flowers in his garden during one week in February. “They fed and covered our red callistemon trees in a cloud, the frenzy lasted for about half an hour,” said an email from this incredibly lucky person. Imagine experiencing that!
And believe it or not, an email further highlighting the encouraging situation was received as this article was being written. Lea from the Sunshine Coast writes, “I’m gob smacked. I’ve always regularly scanned these vines and have done for many years. Two years ago I saw two caterpillars, and this has been the only activity I’ve seen here in the 4.5 years we have lived here. Today I counted 21 caterpillars in all stages of growth.” Very positive signs for the birdwing population in that region.
The RBCN is working closely with all of our SEQ local governments on the recovery of the Richmond Birdwing. The Logan City Council is currently planting over 600 vines to develop a corridor between Tamborine Mountain and Mount Cotton, fulling funding this work through their Environment Levy. This corridor will be further developed with the assistance of the Gold Coast Council who is also actively planting vines as part of their Natural Areas restoration programs.
Brisbane City Council, through Land for Wildlife, is heavily involved in building a birdwing butterfly vine corridor in the western suburbs of Brisbane, and the Moreton Bay Regional Council through its Conservation Partnerships program, is committed to getting vines in the ground. In 2016 Redland City Council awarded the RBCN a grant to fund a project to remove poisonous Dutchman’s pipe vine from properties in Mount Cotton, and regularly provides vines to properties as part of their Habitat Protection Program. This level of support and eagerness to be involved is incredibly encouraging.
There is a long list of other non-government organisations, schools, community and NRM groups actively planting vines to aid the recovery of this vulnerable species. Peachester State School actively propagates the vine, teaches students about the Richmond birdwing and has the species on the school grounds. The team from the Guanaba Indigenous Protected Area work with an early childhood educator who takes kindergarten children to the site to plant vines and learn about conserving birdwings. Seqwater is planting vines at Hinze Dam to stabilise the birding population on the property…
Mentioning every group involved is not possible but the positive impact of their work is very much worth acknowledging. We here at the RBCN will continue to strive to keep this momentum rolling and communicate the results of this huge and diverse collaboration. It feels great to be part of this positive conservation story – keep planting, one and all!