What will you find in this year's butterfly count?

Enjoying the Sun. A pair of mating Gatekeeper Butterflies

Enjoying the Sun. A pair of mating Gatekeeper Butterflies - Credit: Charles Sinclair

Last week during the heatwave we saw a wonderful flush of butterflies emerging in the sunny weather. 

While walking on Soldiers Hill, Meadow Brown butterflies were flying all around. It is a memorable experience. We are in the middle of The Big Butterfly Count run by Butterfly Conservation which ends on Sunday, August 8. They ask for quick surveys to be sent into them via their app. 
At the time of writing, the good people of the Sid Valley have completed 50 counts, so we already have a very good idea of how butterflies are doing this season. Last year though we completed 127. If you wish to take part in this enjoyable process you can find out how easy it is by Googling The Big Butterfly Count. I am hooked!

Last year the national results recorded the third good year in a row for butterflies and since 1976 it ranked as the 10th best year. Nevertheless, almost half of our butterfly species were recorded in below average numbers. In the Sid Valley this was particularly true of Red Admirals, however this year the weather has favoured this species and they are recorded again in good numbers.

However, Baseline Syndrome is something we need to be aware of. Our experience of a good year only goes back as far as our memories, and as older generations pass away the expectations of the next generation is considerably reduced. A good example of this is The Butterfly Bush, or Buddleia. 30 years ago, I remember the dozens of butterflies that would parade around the Buddleia flowers seeking its nectar. I planted two in my garden 15 years ago to get the same effect but I only ever see a couple of butterflies at a time. Anyone in a younger generation might not measure success against the previous generation’s experience and so the base line tends to change over time. Do we really know what our environment did look like and could look like again?

The Meadow Brown and Red Admiral are doing well, but remarkably one of the most common species this year is the Marbled White, even more prevalent than the ubiquitous Small White. Marbled Whites can be seen in the meadows on the Eastern side of the town. What about the less common species? There has been an unconfirmed sighting of a Brown Hairstreak butterfly in Gilchrist Field. Members of the Sid Valley Biodiversity Group went out in the winter searching Blackthorn bushes for Brown Hairstreak eggs, as this is the most successful way of monitoring their populations. None were found in the Sid Valley, though there is a population around Colyton. Finding adults here would be encouraging. Silver Washed Fritillaries are majestic butterflies and appear to be doing well this year and it is possible to see these in your garden if you are lucky. The colonies of Grayling Butterflies on Mutter’s Moor last year were a particular favourite. They have wonderful camouflage and bask on the footpaths. They fly up as you walk by so keep a good eye on them, see where they land and then you will get a good view of them.

Your garden is the best place to do your first count, but there are many rewarding locations to visit around the valley, I would encourage you to join in this Citizen Science Project if you can. There are 17 species that the Big Butterfly Count records. Last year the Sid Valley recorded 20, four of which were not on the app. If you record any of the species not on the app, please email your observations to sidvalleybiodiversity@yahoo.com so we can include these important observations in our records. Our website carries a fantastic series of videos on Meadow butterflies, https://sidvalleybiodiversity.org.uk/life-in-the-meadow-butterflies/ and I would direct you there if you want to deepen your knowledge.

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