But me no buts

Clouded Yellow. Phto: Leigh Prevost, Butterfly Conservation
Clouded Yellow. Photo: Leigh Prevost, Butterfly Conservation

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.

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7 Replies to “But me no buts”

  1. Many birders consider that the butterfly people have it easy! No point in getting up early to do a count, only going out on nice warm sunny days and not having to slosh through mud in wellies. I think your blog shows a different story Mark.

    On my local RSPB reserve the blackthorn hedges are managed for brown and black hairstreak butterflies. On Jan 1st every year the butterfly folk turn out in numbers early with their magnifying glasses and search 100's of metres of hedge for the tiny, exquisite, eggs. They mark each one with a tag and continue to monitor through the spring. Yesterday I met a keen surveyor who was looking at each egg to see how many had hatched. Although a dry day there was a keen wind but she was thrilled that many of the eggs had already hatched and she would now have to follow the progress of the caterpillars! From my point of view I look forward to seeing the finished product flitting along the hedgetops later in the summer. I've joined Butterfly Conservation to support their dedicated work.

    1. Richard - great comment, thank you.

      Butterfly Conservation would be at or near the top of my list of wildlife NGOs to support.

  2. I,ve already seen one comma in the garden, last month. Also seen and heard at a local reserve yesterday were blackcap, willow warbler, chiff chaff, oyster catcher wheatear and marsh harrier.

  3. It's been a pretty decent Spring for butterflies so far in East Kent- lots of peacocks, commas and brimstones have been about, although not many red admirals yet. Orange tips and other whites have been emerging in the past week or so, and best news of all, small tortoiseshell seems to have had a very successful hibernation and they are out in numbers. Oh, and my first holly blue of the year this morning. Numbers of moths in the trap have also been encouragingly high- more grub for the birds and bats of course! It's nice to see the generalist species doing well on the back of a good Summer, but simplistic media pieces about butterflies recovering (fuelled by well meaning press releases) don't tell the very worrying long term stories of our more specialised species.

  4. Duke of Burgundy is an excellent case in point. Warm weather at the right time may produce an increase in numbers from one year to the next but the population overall is so reduced and fragmented that poor weather can potentially wipe out colonies altogether. I agree with Chequertree that press reporting of the weather driven annual increases in butterfly numbers often hides the more gloomy underlying population trends of many species and engenders a wholly unjustified sense of complacency.

  5. Saw a Red Admiral on the wing on a nice day at the end of January. Have had Comma, Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock and Brimstone this year in the garden or nearby. Agree with points above; although there can be the odd good year, butterfly populations in the midlands are a shadow of what they were 35 years ago, when Wall and Small Copper among others were more commonly found. Still very vulnerable to changes in habitat and extremes of climate.

    1. John - Wall is such a good example of a once-common, now-rare species.


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