Fea­ture

Esquire (Singapore) - - Mahb -

Daneway Banks that af­ter­noon was the “large blue”, Ma­c­u­linea ar­ion, one of Bri­tain’s rarest and most cov­eted but­ter­flies. The species is glob­ally en­dan­gered and it was de­clared ex­tinct in the coun­try in 1979, but a ded­i­cated and un­prece­dented con­ser­va­tion ef­fort has seen it rein­tro­duced to 33 sites. The lo­ca­tions of many of these pop­u­la­tions are closely guarded se­crets, but Daneway Banks, which sup­ports the sec­ond largest num­ber of large blues in Eng­land (and there­fore ef­fec­tively the world), is well-known among lep­i­dopter­ists. When the site was of­fi­cially opened in 2016, the Prince of Wales did the hon­ours.

The fol­low­ing day, 57-year-old Cullen and his ac­com­plice ap­peared, help­fully wear­ing the same clothes, on an­other na­ture re­serve ded­i­cated to the large blue. Here, at Col­lard Hill in Som­er­set, a vol­un­teer war­den— pre-warned by a re­port from Hulme, cir­cu­lated overnight—was wait­ing for them. When she ques­tioned Cullen, he claimed he was only in­ter­ested in par­a­sitic wasps. These sightings pro­vided strong cir­cum­stan­tial ev­i­dence, but Cullen was ul­ti­mately brought down by his eBay records. These list­ings, which showed il­le­gal spec­i­mens bought and sold, some from as far afield as Java in In­done­sia, were suf­fi­cient for mag­is­trates to is­sue a war­rant to search his home.

At 9am, on 13 Fe­bru­ary 2016, po­lice ar­rived at Cullen’s ad­dress, on the out­skirts of Bris­tol, with two but­ter­fly ex­perts from the Nat­u­ral His­tory Mu­seum. Cullen, who is un­em­ployed, lives in so­cial hous­ing with his wife and a grown-up son. The search of the two-bed­room house did not take long. There was a pile of rocks in the liv­ing room, which were part of an­other col­lec­tion, and then—bingo. There in a cabi­net was drawer af­ter drawer of rare but­ter­flies, ar­ranged and pinned un­der glass, in­clud­ing more than 20 ex­am­ples of large blues. The most re­cent of these were cap­tioned “DB18” and “CH18”. Cullen in­sisted that the la­bels re­ferred to “Dark Blue” and “Cobalt Hue”. In court, the prose­cu­tors spec­u­lated that they were ref­er­ences to Daneway Banks and Col­lard Hill, and that 18 tal­lied with 18 June, the day he was seen in the Cotswolds.

The mag­is­trates agreed and, in March 2017, Cullen was con­victed for cap­tur­ing, killing and pos­sess­ing large blue but­ter­flies. It was the first time an in­di­vid­ual had been pros­e­cuted in Bri­tain for harm­ing an in­sect, and a prison sen­tence was con­sid­ered. In the event, Cullen was spared jail time, but he had to pay a SGD691 fine and per­form 250 hours of com­mu­nity ser­vice.

Per­haps it was a slow news day or maybe it was respite from the re­lent­less cy­cle of ter­ror­ism and po­lit­i­cal squab­bles, but some­thing about the Cullen trial caught the imag­i­na­tion. Most of the Bri­tish news­pa­pers cov­ered the story, but so too did The New York Times, The Times of In­dia and Arab News, a daily news­pa­per in Saudi Ara­bia. For most of these for­eign out­lets, it was clearly a tale of Bri­tish ec­cen­tric­ity. In­vari­ably, too, the re­ports men­tioned in ei­ther the head­line or the open­ing sen­tence that Cullen used to be a body­builder. The im­age of a mus­cle-bound hulk chas­ing a frail but­ter­fly around with a child’s shrimp­ing net was cer­tainly a gift.

But, around the mar­gins, among se­ri­ous lep­i­dopter­ists, an­other dis­cus­sion was tak­ing place. But­ter­fly col­lect­ing was widely thought to be a relic of a less civilised time: a hobby made ob­so­lete in the 1960s by the

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