When we think of pollinators, we tend to think about bees, but butterflies are another important insect in the cycle of plant life. They pollinate plants whilst searching for plant nectar and, just like bees, their numbers are in alarming decline.
In its report “The State of the UK’s butterflies 2015”, the Butterfly Conservation charity has recorded what it calls “major slumps” in the numbers of common butterfly species.
The decline is most noticeable on farmland, where the numbers of widespread UK butterfly species declined by 58% in the first nine years of this century. Research published in November suggested strong links between this decline and the use by farmers of neonicotinoid pesticides. These pesticides, subject to a temporary ban within the European Union, are also strongly implicated in the alarming decline in our bee populations.
In the midst of this gloomy overall picture there are some positive stories. One or two rare butterfly species, such as the Duke of Burgundy butterfly and the High Brown Fritillary, have increased their numbers in recent years, but only as a result of direct intervention in agricultural practices, for example introducing grazing management and grassland restoration. These examples show that farming needs to work with, not against nature. A healthy population of bees and butterflies makes for a healthy and sustainable food supply.
This is my first post of 2016, so may I wish all of you a very happy and fulfilling new year.
For me the year ahead contains new challenges which will place new demands upon my time. This means that of necessity I will be reducing the frequency of my posts. However I do have lots of ideas for new recipes to share with you on here, and I will certainly not be reducing any of the passion that I put into my posts.
To kick off the new year on a solid, healthy note, here’s a simple but beautifully flavoured Tuscan-style soup in which I have used borlotti beans and dark, earthy kale gathered from my allotment plot, the Circus Garden. It is warming, hearty and full of goodness and should be served with a good quality, fresh, crusty bread.
Tuscan style bean and vegetable soup
400 g can organic chopped tomatoes
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 red pepper, diced
250 g cavalo nero, or curly kale, chopped
1 tsp dried oregano
1 sprig fresh rosemary
15 g basil leaves, roughly chopped
1 tsp sea salt
1 litre vegetable stock
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1. Put the beans in a pan, cover with water. bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer and cook for 40 minutes or until just tender. drain and rinse under cold water.
2. Heat the oil in a large pan over a medium heat. When hot, add the onions and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring every so often before adding the carrot, celery and red pepper. Continue to cook and stir for a further 5 minutes or until the vegetables have softened and become tender. Add the cavalo nero, garlic, oregano, rosemary and salt and cook for a further two minutes.
3. Pour the tomatoes and vegetable stock into the pan. Stir and bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low. Add the cooked bortlotti beans. Continue to cook on a low heat, stirring occasionally.
4. After 20 minutes add the basil leaves, and stir them in. Cook for a further 2 minutes.
5. Serve this soup piping hot, accompanied by good quality crusty bread.