“The Butterfly Isles”: Looking for butterflies becomes a thriller!

This is a really lovely story from start to finish of one man’s quest to see all 59 British butterflies in one summer.

Thankfully Barkham chose a good summer to pursue his quest; I doubt if he would be successful in other summers.

To be honest, I was actually expecting it to be rather tedious: after all, a butterfly is a butterfly is a butterfly, yes? Absolutely not! The 59 butterflies described in the book are the real stars because I was amazed at how different they are in their behavior. The aggressive Purple Emperor; the drunken flight of the Wood White; the friendly Small Tortoiseshell; the tough little Mountain Ringlet; the shy Brown Hairstreak.

Interspersed are some fascinating accounts of the lives of these insects. The chapter on the Large Blue, for example, is riveting. This is the butterfly which went extinct, and only when it’s fascinatingly complex life cycle was discovered could it be successfully re-introduced.

Running throughout the book – although never over-stated – are the author’s own personal struggles: his own green credentials of driving hither and thither in search of sightings; his hang-ups; his relationship with his girlfriend.

And amazingly, with the end of the book in sight, it turns into a bit of a thriller. Will he see all 59 species or be thwarted? I’m not revealing the end result of course, but I will say that the epilogue was a particularly beautiful piece of nature writing.

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