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Episode 20

Saving Species, Series 1 Episode 20 of 40

30 minutes
First broadcast:
Tuesday 14 September 2010

20/40 In this weeks Saving Species Joanna Pinnock, armed with a thermometer, visits a compost heap in Cambridgeshire to discover to her great surprise its temperature is way above that of her own body. Invertebrate ecologist Julian Doberski, himself armed with a microscope, shows Joanna how miniscule amounts of steaming compost contain a wonderous array of tiny critters, all thriving on the free heat generated by the microbes digesting the sugars in the compost. Here is, we discover, another example of how the little things in the natural world are responsible for turning around dead things and making them available to other wildlife. And we follow on this theme with a special studio guest who more than ever needs a warm living compost heap to successfully raise her young - the Grass Snake.

Also in the programme how deciphering the life history of the Large Blue Butterfly is helping this very rare insect to increase its range in Southern England.

And we hope to bring you the spectacle of breeding Stellers Sea Lions - the largest "Fur Seal" in the world with a special report from the Aleution Islands in the North Pacific.

Presented by Brett Westwood
Produced by Kirsty Henderson
Series Editor Julian Hector.

  • English Large Blue Butterfly - More Information

    The last colony of the English Large Blue Butterfly was seen on the southern edge of Dartmoor in the 1970’s. One man who witnessed its extinction was Jeremy Thomas, now Professor of Ecology at Oxford University. In the 1970’s, after six years of biological detective work to decipher the butterflies life history, his research identified the symbiotic relationship between a species of red ant (Myrmica sabuleti) and the caterpillar of the large blue. This meant the large blue had a future. If suitable sites could be found, containing the right red ants and plenty of thyme plants (on which the butterfly lays its eggs), the large blue had a chance of flying again in Britain. The race was on to find a genetically similar large blue population to re-introduce to England. Such a population was found in Sweden and they were introduced to various sites in the West Country where, particularly on the Polden Hills in Somerset, they are now doing very well.

    In the summer of 2010 a small percentage of eggs were harvested from Greendown and Collard Hill in Somerset and transported to a mystery site in the Cotswolds in Gloucestershire. The plan is to establish two colonies of large blues in the Cotswolds where they were last seen flying in 1963. All David Simcox, Jeremy Thomas and their field assistant Sarah Meredith can do now is wait and see whether all their hard work means the butterflies emerge early next summer!

  • Male Large Blue Butterfly

    Male Large Blue Butterfly

    Image by David Simcox

  • Eggs of Large Blue in transit

    Eggs of Large Blue in transit

    Image by Sarah Pitt

  • Grass Snake

    Grass Snake

    Image by Jim Foster


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