Butterflies are among the most loved members of our wildlife, brightening summer days as they flutter and float around like delicate jewels. There is a butterfly for every colour of the spectrum plus white and brown so dark it might be called black. Every year, scientists and volunteers make a record of the various species in the Big Butterfly Count which starts this weekend. Anybody and everybody can join in, and it has been shown that engaging with nature is good for you.
You don’t need to be an expert to join the Big Butterfly Count. The organisers, Butterfly Conservation, provide an identification sheet which shows twenty common butterflies. Then, on a warm sunny day, you go somewhere where you think there should be butterflies and you count what you see in fifteen minutes. You can do as many counts as you wish in as many locations as you think will be a good place. Some people just do their garden, others will go for a walk in the countryside.
Last year, volunteers from the Sid Valley Biodiversity Group did 134 separate counts and submitted records of 1,700 sightings to the scheme. The butterfly with the highest count was the Gatekeeper, a small orange /brown butterfly that enjoys our hedgerows, so is often encountered near gates, hence the name. The Meadow Brown, as might expect, can be found in meadows where it lays its eggs at the base of grasses which are the hairy green caterpillars’ food plant.
You might think butterflies are delicate, but they can fly great distances. One that has been seen regularly in local counts is the Painted Lady a summer visitor that makes its way across the English Channel from France. As our climate warms, these brightly coloured migrants are beginning to make southern England their permanent home.
Like most local insect species, butterfly numbers are falling. As a child, I would see dozens of Red Admirals on the Buddleia or butterfly bush in my nan’s garden. Now you would be lucky to see even one on a summer’s day. Gathering year on year data from around the country enables conservationists to build up a picture what is working and what more needs to be done. But you can do more than just count, you can help the butterflies.
If every garden in Sidmouth had a small area set aside with native plants, not just flowers for the butterflies but plants for the caterpillars to feed on, then perhaps your grandchildren will have the joy of seeing dozens of Red Admirals on a butterfly bush. All the information you need can be found on the Big Butterfly Count website.
Images and text: Ed Dolphin
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