A BUTTERFLY SUMMER
It has been a gloriously butterfly filled summer for me this year, both home and abroad. In June I had the pleasure of travelling to Turkey to participate in a collaborative project between Butterfly Conservation Europe and DKM, a Turkish conservation charity. Our destination was Ankara - a sprawling beast of a concrete jungle which appears to hungrily devour the land in every direction. Nestled within this sea of grey however, there exists a green oasis: the Middle Eastern Technical University campus (METU).
There is very little greenspace in or surrounding Ankara. The METU campus offers the only substantial source of nature for people to enjoy.
The campus is unusual - when inside, all notions of being anywhere near a city are lost. You could be forgiven for believing you were in a natural environment but the truth is, the whole campus is entirely landscaped. Once 4500ha of barren wasteland awarded by the state, METU has been transformed into a biodiverse mosaic of habitat. This process began in the early 60s when the first official president of METU was appointed. Upon arriving at his new campus, Mr Kemal Kurdas was shocked to witness one very forlorn looking tree and at once vowed to plant many, many more. Two architects were hired to design the infrastructure of the new university buildings, whilst he set about planning METU’s new forest.
A New Forest
Around 3000 of METU’s 4500 hectares are forested with a mixture of pine, poplar and oak
Parts of the campus replicate steppe grassland habitat which is rich in flora and insect life. An incredible 140 of Turkey’s 380 butterfly species can be found here, along with 224 species of bird and 10 species of reptile. A very rare butterfly known as the steppe fritillary is found within the grassland areas and has become something of a poster species for METUs conservation activities. Since the the project started in the 60s over 12 million trees have been planted, greatly assisted by METU students and volunteers.
However like most other areas of green space, METU campus is facing increasing pressure from the outside world. When close to the perimeter it’s hard to miss the construction of towering high rise buildings and the encroaching city. There is also an issue of detachment from the rest of Ankara, as the majority of the campus is not accessible to the public. It is very difficult to engage people to care about something which they cannot experience for themselves.
The city of Ankara creeps closer
To highlight these issues and inspire a love for METUs wildlife, the “Nature For Youth and City” initiative was started. Its core aim is to empower Ankara’s youth to speak out against environmental issues and share their passion with others. A year long training programme was established, allowing 30 METU undergraduate students to become “Nature Hosts.” Through this scheme they were able to learn about the environment and develop important communication skills.
Our charity Butterfly Conservation here in the UK has significant experience in communicating nature to the public. Our engagement projects such as “Munching Caterpillars” and “Big Butterfly Count” have been hugely successful - putting us in a great position to offer advice to others. Particularly in countries which do not have such well established conservation NGOs and citizen science schemes. During our knowledge exchange visit to Turkey we watched the Nature Hosts putting their new skills into practise and offered advice and ideas throughout. On our last day we also held a big campus bioblitz - this was important as it provided an opportunity for the public to take part and experience METU.
Nature Host Ibrahim leading a nature engagement session with school children
Not only were the Nature Hosts exceptionally lovely, they were super passionate and great communicators. I have no doubt that they will go on to do great things for both their campus and city. Of course it helps that there was so much amazing wildlife around to inspire the children. I would certainly love to visit this jewel of a campus again one day, for now however here are a few photos of the insects I was lucky enough to photograph.