Butterflies Bounce Back

The long spells of warm sunny weather in July and August this summer has provided a much needed boost for our beleaguered butterflies, with four times as many recorded during this year’s national Big Butterfly Count than in 2012. The washout year of 2012 was the worst on record for butterflies and had followed a series of poor summers which had compounded the long-term declines of many UK butterflies.


The Small White topped the Big Butterfly Count 2013 chart with the Large White in second place and the Peacock a surprise in third. Garden favourite the Small Tortoiseshell recorded its best Big Butterfly Count result yet, coming sixth. Although the Whites were very abundant, it was the huge increase in Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock numbers that delighted the butterfly watching public. Both species have declined worryingly in recent years.


The butterflies of the Walled Gardens reflected quite closely the national picture with numerous Peacocks and Small Tortoiseshells seen throughout the gardens during the sunny days of July and August. Visitors were kept busy with their digital cameras capturing close-up shots of butterflies and bumblebees on the nectar rich flowers.


On several days when I was in the Walled Gardens, I estimated that there were at least 400 individual butterflies, with about 45% being Whites, 35% Small Tortoiseshells and 20% Peacocks. Included in these figures were several Commas, Holly Blues and Red Admirals.


The warm weather also saw an increase of migrants from the Continent with the Clouded Yellow and Painted Lady butterflies and the Silver Y moth seen in impressive numbers. I saw several Painted Lady flying around the Blue Garden and nectaring on the beds of Lavender that was also a favourite of the many Silver Y moths. I also found a Clouded Yellow in the Greenhouse complex.


With the welcome boost to our butterflies this past summer I am sure you will join me in anticipation and hope that this trend will continue next year. Things will depend on how the eggs, caterpillars, chrysalis or adults fare during hibernation this winter.  


Alan Hold

Peacock butterfly photo