Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Recollecting British butterflies

With the nights drawing in noticeably and our volunteers stuck into autumn chores around the garden, summer is starting to seem a distant memory. Yet there still might be a butterfly or two visible in the garden… Speaking of butterflies, the UK organisation, Butterfly Conservation, has recently released the results of its 2015 Big Butterfly Count. Similar to the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, the Big Butterfly Count is an annual survey that gets members of the public involved in tracking the numbers of 20 different butterfly and moth species in a variety of habitats. Started in 2010, the Big Butterfly Count is now the world’s biggest survey of butterflies, and over 52,000 people took part in the count this year.

Gatekeeper by I, Anevrisme, Wikipedia 
On a sunny afternoon in the first part of August, I was one of these butterfly counters, completing the 15-minute survey from a central vantage point in the Empty Common Community Garden. It is actually harder than it sounds to sit in one place and try to count and identify (but not double-count!) each butterfly that flutters past, but it’s still a very pleasant way to spend a quarter of an hour. To the best of my rather amateur butterfly identification knowledge, the Empty Common Community Garden count totalled 22 or 6 Large White, 5 Small White, 3 Green-veined White, 3 Brimstone, 1 Gatekeeper, 1 Peacock, 1 Common Blue, and 2 Small Copper. These results can be viewed along with the counts for other locations, organised by habitat type and postcode, on the Big Butterfly Count’s searchable map.

Peacock butterfly by Charlesjsharp, Wikipedia

The UK-wide results for 2015 showed an increase over last year’s numbers for eleven of the target species, while the numbers for seven of the target species decreased. At the same time, the average number of total butterflies logged per count decreased from 15 to 13 this year, a drop that Butterfly Conservation attributes to the poor weather conditions during certain parts of the summer.

Returning to the present, there are still things that gardeners can do to help butterflies at this time of year. Most butterfly species in Britain spend the winter in egg, caterpillar, or chrysalis form, but some – including the Brimstone, Peacock, and Small Tortoiseshell – do hibernate as adult butterflies (though in recent winters, these and other species have been visible on the wing on very mild days). These butterflies are now stocking up on food in preparation for hibernation and so can really benefit from some late-blooming perennials. Butterfly Conservation recommends planting sedums, such as Iceplant or Butterfly Stonecrop (Sedum spectabile). Sedums come in a variety of colours and are a good nectar source not only for butterflies but for moths and bees as well.

And if, over the winter months, you happen to come upon a butterfly in your home that is active because of the central heating, it is best if you can move the butterfly to a better location for the duration of winter. Catch the butterfly and put it in a cardboard box. Hopefully, the butterfly will have a chance to calm down, and you can then try to relocate it onto the wall or ceiling of a shed, garage, porch, or other unheated space. Just make certain the butterfly can escape when spring really does arrive again!

Thank you Emily for this wonderful contribution! Thank you to all those who sent words and photos, there are more in the pipeline...

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