Somerville JCR gets a butterfly farm

In a JCR meeting on Sunday, undergraduates voted to build a butterfly farm in college and organise a launch event, in acknowledgment of a recent decline in abundance of butterflies over the last few decades. The motion quoted the charity Butterfly Conservation, noting, “Overall three-quarters of UK butterflies showed a 10-year decrease in either their distribution or population levels.”

The motion stated, “this JCR believes that a butterfly farm is a simple and effective way for students to engage with this issue and actively help the local environment, especially due to the proximity to port meadow, Uni parks, and our own quad.

“Butterflies enhance the college environment as a whole, aesthetically and ecologically, and the college environment is perfect for butterflies, with the gardeners cultivating flowery plants all year, and in the butterfly seasons of spring and autumn.”

It continued, “We need to support the butterfly community because they are important to and have value within the ecosystem.”

Rachel Backshall, the Environmental Ethics Officer, proposed the motion. She told Cherwell, “The idea came from a friend of mine who I work with at a veterinary clinic during the holidays. Her daughter had a butterfly farm at home, and it helped fuel her interest in animals, insects and the environment. 

“Although we are not all 10 years old, sometimes it can be healthy to revert back to our ‘childish’ past, especially when working in such a high stress conditions as we do in Oxford,” she said, “I hope that this butterfly farm will have a positive affect in Somerville, with students being encouraged to engage with these creatures at first hand, and to consider their place in the world, and Oxford, with respect to their surroundings.”

The butterflies which will be used in the project, the Small Tortoiseshell have been particularly badly hit by the recent decline in abundance, with a 64% collapse over the last ten years.

Backshall explained, “It is hoped that the college environment, with relatively few birds and flowery plants throughout the year, will be conducive to supporting these butterflies.”

Andrew Maclean, who seconded the motion, commented that “ It seems like it will be a fun, cheapish, and memorable way of both raising awareness for the environment and contributing to the local ecosystems. I know students who feel quite alienated living in a city (however small Oxford is), so maybe the butterflies, while not solving the issues, will contribute to people feeling a little more at home in Somerville.”

Maclean expressed his hope that other colleges would follow Somerville’s example; however, not all students have advocated the motion. One St Hilda’s classicist commented, “Butterflies are horrible creatures and this motion will haunt my nightmares.”