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PROFESSOR JOHN DOVER Tuesday 04 December 2012 John takes us on a journey into the intriguing habits of butterflies through his years of painstaking research around the world, to his own metamorphosis to inspirational ecologist.

School of Sciences

BIOGRAPHY John was born in Shipley, Yorkshire, but was expelled from his native land at the age of two when some form of early genetic test showed he would never make it as a cricketer. The family finally settled in Worcester, his mother’s home town. In 1972 John embarked on a 4-year sandwich course in Applied Biology at Salford University which included 6-month stints working as a field trials entomologist for Fisons in Saffron Walden and as a fermentation technologist at British Petroleum’s research centre in Sunbury-onThames. After a year out of university doing jobs such as reclaiming waste zinc for a die-casting factory and as a warehouseman for a mail-order company John started postgraduate studies at Southampton University, thanks to a small legacy from an aunt, as a self-funded research student. John’s doctoral research was concerned with exploring the science behind ‘Companion Planting’ whereby alternate cropping of rows of vegetables and herbs is purported to reduce infestation by brassicaeating butterflies and moths. Whilst laboratory trials with chemical extracts and mini-intercropping trials were encouraging, in the field it was a disaster; far more eggs of the garden pebble moth were laid on Brussels Sprout plants when thyme plants were grown amongst them! With the economy in a downward spiral at the time John graduated, he was rescued by a Manpower Services Commission job on Southampton Common which involved making an inventory and reference collection of butterflies and moths (amongst other things). He also started a wonderful 4-year course in ‘bookbinding and book restoration’ which he had to abandon half-way through because a real job loomed. Starting in 1985, John spent 6 years working for The Game Conservancy Trust (now the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust) as Senior


JOHN DOVER Project Scientist (Lepidoptera) working on the acclaimed and groundbreaking ‘Cereals and Gamebirds Research Project’. In 1991 he moved to Liverpool to work as the Head of Terrestrial Ecology for an environmental consultancy. From 1993-2000 he worked for Myerscough College (the Lancashire College of Agriculture and Horticulture) as Programme Area Leader (Countryside Studies). In 2000 he moved to Staffordshire University as Senior Lecturer in Applied Ecology, becoming Reader in Applied Sciences in 2006 and finally Professor of Ecology in 2008. John’s main interests are in the general areas of Agro-ecology, Landscape Ecology and, more recently, Urban Ecology. Within those broad themes he is particularly interested in butterflies, field margins, hedges and green lanes, wildlife corridors/connectivity, hay meadows and green walls. John has carried out field research in the UK, Australia, Norway, Spain and Sweden and has had writing partnerships with colleagues in those countries as well as in the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece and Switzerland. He has been a Trustee of the national charity Butterfly Conservation and still serves on its National Conservation Committee and the West Midlands Branch Committee. He is a Fellow of the Royal Entomological Society, a Fellow of the Society of Biology and a member of the British Ecological Society. John is also a member of Hedgelink (the steering group for the UK Biodiversity Action Plan for Hedgerows) and is a steering panel member for a DEFRA-funded

research project on hedgerow management being carried out by the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology. He is currently taking part in a DEFRA project on ‘Understanding the combined biodiversity benefits of the component features of hedgerows’. Recent work with his current PhD student Caroline Chiquet has led to the award of HEIF funding to develop a national Green Wall Centre at Staffordshire University. John is on the Editorial Board of the Journal of Insect Conservation, for which he has also acted as guest editor. He has also been an Editorial Board member of the journal Landscape and Urban Planning, and acts as referee for a wide range of other international peer-reviewed journals. John has run four international conferences and edited their proceedings. He has acted as examiner of postgraduate theses in the UK, Norway, Finland and France and has supervised doctoral research on a number of topics related to his areas of interest. John also acts as award leader for a suite of taught MSc courses in Ecology and Conservation as well as teaching on undergraduate and masters modules. John’s interests, not surprisingly, include butterflies. He also enjoys playing the English concertina, mainly for Morris dancing but also in sessions. He enjoys folk dancing and singing, canal holidays, reading (graphic novels as well as text-based ones), house building and repair and gardening (but needs some tips on tomatoes). He considers himself fortunate to have a lovely family he enjoys being with.



Photograph: Doug Peters/Earthwatch

“Man is a singular creature. He has a set of gifts which make him unique among the animals, so that unlike them he is not a figure in the landscape – he is the shaper of the landscape.” Jacob Bronowski 1979 Our landscape has been constantly changing. Since man first started clearing land for his animals and developed a settled agricultural lifestyle rather than hunter-gathering we have not simply been part of the landscape, we have increasingly come to dominate it. At first we cultivated the lighter soils because we had wooden ploughs; as technology improved increasingly more efficient metal ploughs were used, enabling us to exploit heavier land. To get land to plough we had to remove the trees.

Photograph: Doug Peters/Earthwatch

Those early attempts at agriculture on light soils quickly exhausted the nutrients and we moved on, leaving new heathlands behind. We developed grassland systems to feed our stock over winter – hay meadows were essential for this. Arable crops gave us wheat and barley, and a range of vegetables – and other crops to feed sheep,

cows and horses. When we cleared woodland we created open areas, and we created hedges to corral our stock. We cut down trees, but created coppices to give us a sustainable supply of wood. A coppice in spring is packed with bluebells, primroses, violets and orchids. A traditional hay meadow in early summer is filled with wildflowers and humming with insects. Despite the changes over the centuries we were still, to an extent, in harmony with the land – much of the work was done by human hands aided by the power of our domestic animals. The 20th Century changed all that. Mechanisation was creeping in, in the early decades, and the two world wars, and especially the second, accelerated the development of a n industria lised f a rmland dominated by our machines, and the chemical creations of our minds: inorganic fertilizers derived from oil,



herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, molluscicides, growth regulators – hedges were ripped out to allow huge machines to till the soil and reap the harvest. Man is no longer part of the landscape, but the dominant feature of it and with that intensification of farming we have driven out much of the wildlife that once thrived within it. Rachael Carson’s book ‘Silent Spring’ in the 1960s alerted the western world to the devastation being wrought in our fields and now

there are government schemes to improve biodiversity in our farmed land, replant hedges, and efforts to conserve the remaining fragments of species-rich habitat. We worry about connectivity – how species can move through the landscape, how they will be able to escape the negative effects of climate change. We look for new ways of managing nature reserves, we worry about how the landscape will still be able to deliver the ecosystem services that we rely on. We worry about the beauty we have almost lost and how we can save it from oblivion. But how do we measure the effects of landscape change? How do we judge whether changes to our farmland are positive or negative? We need a set of indicators to help us measure what we are doing, to allow us to monitor our progress. Enter the butterflies. Butterflies are incredibly useful experimental tools. They require different resources at different stages in their lives, some of them

are generalists and some of them are highly specialised. They have different population structures: some disperse throughout the countryside and are unlikely to return to where they emerged as adults whilst others live in quite small, tight, colonies and may stray only a few tens of metres from where they emerged. Butterflies, like many invertebrates, are also incredibly sensitive to small changes in the way their habitat is managed, or to their microclimate, making them ideal as organisms to monitor the health of ecosystems; they are, with birds, UK Government Quality of Life indicators.


PROGRAMME 5.30 p.m.

Drinks Reception The Science Centre Atrium

6.00 p.m.

Welcome and Introductory Remarks Paul Richards, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Deputy Chief Executive - Staffordshire University

6.10 p.m.

Professor John Dover Metamorphosis: from scrubby child to butterfly ecologist (or, Hissing Sid and the missing data point)

7.15 p.m.

Buffet The Science Centre Atrium



Photograph: Doug Peters/Earthwatch

School of Sciences Christine Dover Science Centre Leek Road Stoke-on-Trent Staffordshire ST4 2DF t: 01782 294110 e:

M4327 CbS 11/12

Metamorphosis: from scrubby child to butterfly ecologist  
Metamorphosis: from scrubby child to butterfly ecologist  

Professor John Dover takes us on a journey into the intriguing habits of butterflies through his years of painstaking research around the wo...