Blog by Derek Gruar, Senior Research Assistant, RSPB Centre for Conservation Science 

A kaleidoscope of butterflies drifting effortlessly along a woodland glade or a grassy verge is one of the most uplifting wildlife moments of any summer’s day.

Butterfly Conservation are inviting everyone enjoy such moments and to take time to connect with nature and appreciate our butterflies. By taking part in the BIG BUTTERFLY COUNT (the biggest butterfly survey in the world!) your sightings will help provide a snapshot of how well our butterflies are faring. In 2018, the survey had over 100,000 participants which is a testament to the appeal of these fascinating insects.

Taking part is quite easy:

• Find a place to watch butterflies for 15 minutes on a bright or even better sunny day. This can be literally anywhere from the local park, in your garden, in fields or woodland.
• On a 15-minute walk record the total of each species seen (an ID sheet is available on the website).
• At a fixed location such as a garden count the maximum number of each species seen at any one time.
• Submit results online or via the Big Butterfly Count App.

Visit www.bigbutterflycount.org for full information

Today, Wednesday 24th July, we’ll be conducting Big Butterfly Counts on RSPB Hope Farm near Cambridge. We will be live tweeting, uploading video content and reporting our results. Follow us on Twitter @RSPBScience

Photo: Marbled White butterfly, by Derek Gruar

Butterflies at RSPB Hope Farm

At Hope Farm, we have been monitoring butterflies for almost 20 years. This gives us a measure on whether our wildlife friendly farming management is working.

I’m fortunate to conduct these weekly surveys which run from April to September. It provides me with a wonderful insight on the butterfly populations and how they have responded to our habitat management. Our data is included in the UK’s national butterfly monitoring scheme where butterfly trends are recorded from over 2000 sites.

Over the past 20 years we have seen the populations of our butterflies increase by an average 223% this compares well with national trends showing two thirds of the UK’s butterflies are in decline over the past 40 years.

 

Photo: Butterflies trends at RSPB Hope Farm

On Hope Farm we have seen species that were either absent or scarce have colonised the farm (Marbled White, Brown Argus and Common Blue most notably).

Our field margins have become much more butterfly friendly with sown wildflowers (Knapweed, Musk Mallow, Vetch etc) as well as specialist pollen and nectar mixes (Clover, Ox-eye- Daisy, Sainfoin). All of which are attractive to butterflies and other pollinating insects. This is made possible through governmental Agri-environment schemes which provide funding to farmers and land managers to farm in a way that supports biodiversity, enhances the landscape, and improves the quality of water, air and soil.

Photo: Hope Fam field margins have become much more butterfly friendly with sown wildflowers as well as specialist pollen and nectar mixes. by Derek Gruar

 How have our butterflies fared in 2019 so far?

We had a good start to year with large numbers of Orange-Tip and Brimstone recorded between mid-April and Early June (one of the reasons the national scheme records for 6 months is to include the flight period for all species) both probably benefitted from a warm Spring.

As we hit July the numbers of Meadow Browns, Ringlets and more recently Gatekeepers have dominated the survey counts and we are on target for a record year for Meadow Brown. Over the next few weeks we hope to see more Peacocks, Small Tortoiseshells and Common Blues as well as the possible forecast influx of Painted Ladies.

Our butterfly monitoring continues weekly until the end of September. I will publish the full results in another blog post in the Autumn once all the counts have been done and the numbers crunched.  

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