Rare butterfly makes return to Camberwell

The latest weapon between developers and residents is not a swashbuckling knight on a big horse, a superhero with a cape or a wizard with a wand – it’s a butterfly.

The Camberwell beauty – more of an elegant vision than a macho bully – has made a return to the area which made its name.

It has been introduced to Greendale Playing Fields, a piece of designated Metropolitan Open Land being battled over by regular users, and Meadow Residential, who want to build a new stadium there for Dulwich Hamlet Football Club. The area is already home to other rare species.

The butterfly’s name originated from the discovery of two individuals at Coldharbour Lane – then called Cold Arbour Lane – in Camberwell in August 1748 by author Moses Harris. A publication called the Aurelian named them the Camberwell Beauty in 1766.

They were once a regular sight in flight around parts of SE5. They would hatch from eggs buried in logs imported from Scandinavia by paper mills along the Grand Surrey Canal, which was filed in by 1960.

The famous Samuel Jones factory in Southampton Way, one of the biggest employers in the area, made flat gummed paper from 1872 under the Butterfly brand – the butterfly being, of course, the Camberwell Beauty.

But the beauties disappeared when the mills in the area closed more than half a century ago. They are now more likely to be glimpsed on the east and south coasts.

The new beauties were bred by James Frankcom, a teacher and amateur butterfly breeder.

He said: “I thought Camberwell was the right place to release these two beauties. And I was advised that Greendale Fields was the ideal place. It is the right habitat with good vegetation.”

Up to 40 people watched the first beauty fly straight into nearby trees last weekend. The second stayed around to be sociable.

But neither will survive long – their life expectancy is about a year – unless they find a suitable place to hibernate, after which they will mate.

Some local people hope to grow families of beauties and restore a near-constant presence – but it is an open question whether they would survive the building work on the new stadium and the 223 flats due to be constructed on Hamlet’s current pitch.

“We are very grateful to James Frankcom for bringing beautiful butterflies home to Camberwell,” said Nick Mair, chairman of the Camberwell Society.

And Barbara Patterson, of the SE5 Forum, said: “James has done very well.”

Pictured top: One of the Camberwell beauties

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