Nadia Kingsley was amazed by the wildlife she noticed when she really started looking.
I first had the idea for a book bringing poetry, art and butterflies together when I was living in Shropshire. I had developed a deep pride in Shropshire ever since we moved there in 2007 and at the time I wanted to learn more about Nature, but I had rarely noticed any butterflies.
Butterflies are an ideal subject for a book that aims to link poetry and art. The ancient Greeks used the word psyche for both the soul and a butterfly, and butterflies have been used to symbolise change, transformation, creativity, freedom and joy.
But butterflies are more than beautiful extraordinary creatures: their presence (or absence) quickly reflects the general health of the countryside, so they can be used as environmental indicators. They are useful in climate-change studies, too. Helping to protect butterflies also helps to maintain biodiversity.
When looking for butterflies, I couldn’t help but learn a great deal about wild flowers, food plants, habitats and conservation issues. Since starting this project I have had many wonderful moments that have given me a real sense of the interconnectedness of everything.
Personal highlights of this project have included these:
• Doing conservation work during a foggy February at the Stiperstones and returning in June to do a timed count of the Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries amongst the marsh violets, heath spotted orchids, ragged robin and bugle.
• Going to Shatterford Wood to look for Silver-washed Fritillaries and finding an oasis of Skippers, Small Coppers, Common Blues, and a Golden-ringed Dragonfly under the electricity pylons.
• Seeing my first Brown Argus butterflies in our garden and following them – to be met by an abundance of Peacocks, Ringlets and Meadow Browns in the thistles, grasses and ragwort.
• Finding a single-ridged Orange-tip egg on cuckoo flower; watching nettle heads pulsing with Small Tortoiseshell caterpillars; and racing alongside Brimstones in the early spring.
I have never seen so many butterflies in my life – in gardens, in woods, on heath, in fields; even over the road verges. What amazed me was that they must have been there all the time. I just hadn’t looked before.
I advertised, inviting submissions to the book, in national art, craft and writing magazines, as well as in Resurgence, and the resulting hardback book is a celebration of Shropshire butterflies in poetry and images, including acrylic and watercolour paintings, prints, glass, computer-manipulated images and sculpture.
I am very grateful to the 69 contributors who participated in this project, including Matthew Oates, Paul Evans, Katherine Swift, Gillian Clarke, Roger Garfitt and Mario Petrucci, and to the poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, who wrote: “This is one of the most delightful ‘green’ poetry projects I have heard of in recent years.”
Shropshire Butterflies: A Poetic and Artistic Guide to the Butterflies of Shropshire, edited by Nadia Kingsley, is published by Fair Acre Press, ISBN: 9780956827500. A donation will be made to Butterfly Conservation from the sale of each book. See www.fairacrepress.co.uk for stockists.