I haven’t seen many butterflies yet this year – a few Peacocks, lots of lovely Brimstones and some very welcome Small Tortoiseshells. But I am keeping my fingers crossed for a sunny, warm summer with lots of butterflies on the wing.
Last year, do you remember?, consisted of a grotty spring and then a fine long warm summer. Many common species of butterfly, those three whites (Large, Small and Green-veined), were up in numbers last year, as were most other species (46 out of 53, in fact) but this is partly because 2012 was such an awful year (the worst year on record) and so although there was lots of bouncing back, the bounces only got our butterfly populations as a whole back to average levels.
Spring specialists were down in numbers but the summer ended with good numbers of Clouded Yellows making their way across the Channel (although I missed out on them completely).
Imagine if bird numbers whizzed up and down from year to year as butterfly numbers do – what a strange world it would be. If Skylarks were three times as common one year compared with the previous one and Blackbirds were three times rarer – how odd would that seem to us?
Spring is such a hopeful season. We look forward to the delights ahead – even knowing that they might not arrive this year. I imagine my summer to be full of birds, butterflies and plants. Is that what will happen? None of us knows. And that’s one of the things – unpredictability – that makes nature so wonderful.
Will I see my first UK Dukes of Burgundy in 2014? That’s the plan – my plan – but I’m at the mercy of the weather, the luck of the draw and the butterflies. And that’s how it should be.
Dr Tom Brereton, Head of Monitoring at Butterfly Conservation, said: “The recovery of butterflies in 2013 was highly welcome but there is still a long way to go before butterflies return to former glories.
“Our ongoing monitoring efforts will be vital in assessing whether we are on track to reverse butterfly declines and rebuild a healthy countryside.”
The UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme has run since 1976 and involves thousands of volunteers collecting data every week throughout the summer from more than 1,000 sites across the UK.
CEH butterfly ecologist Dr Marc Botham said: “Annual changes are largely associated with the weather. However, the data show that a number of species have been significantly declining over the last 38 years. This highlights the importance of maintaining long-term monitoring, reliant on the immense dedication of thousands of volunteers, to determine species and habitats of conservation priority.”
The UKBMS is operated by Butterfly Conservation and the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology and funded by a multi-agency consortium including Defra, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Forestry Commission, BTO, Natural England, the Natural Environment Research Council, Natural Resources Wales and Scottish Natural Heritage.