Butterfly bonanza

Monday 3rd July 2017

Marbled white butterfly (c) Wendy CarterMarbled white butterfly (c) Wendy Carter

Flashes of white, streaks of brown and dashes of blue.

Meadow brown (c) Barry GreenConservationists are celebrating increased populations of butterflies on a number of their meadow nature reserves. Staff and volunteers from Worcestershire Wildlife Trust, the county’s leading conservation charity, have noticed that, after several very poor years, numbers of butterflies are significantly higher this summer.

Rob Allen, Conservation Officer responsible for a number of meadows in the south of the county, explained “This is great news! We’ve got a number of volunteers who walk defined routes on a weekly basis and count the number of butterflies they see – this gives us comparable data through the year as well as year-on-year.

“At our Hill Court Farm nature reserve not far from Upton upon Severn, for example, our volunteer David counted 919 individual butterflies – 700 more than the same time last year. Even accounting for doing the walk in different weather, that’s an astonishing increase.

“We’ve had similar reports from volunteers who look after other meadows as well as from those who volunteer in our woodlands.

“The weather over the last couple of years hasn’t been kind to butterflies; wet springs and summers are bad news for many of our insects. So relatively dry and warm weather this year, along with our management, has really given the butterflies a boost.”

59% decline in insects

At Hill Court Farm the Trust is now leaving a field each year on rotation where a hay cut isn’t taken. This allows butterflies and other insects to complete their lifecycle and offers additional food for farmland birds during winter months.

Marbled white (c) Dan WattsMarbled white butterflies, for example, are one of the beauties of Worcestershire’s meadows. They spend most of their life as a caterpillar – even spending the winter as one. They pupate either on the surface of the ground or buried in the top surface of soil or leaf litter. Bringing heavy machinery onto wet soils, taking an early silage cut or not leaving a margin around the field when hay is taken would kill most caterpillars and pupae.

Rob continued “Whilst our wildlife can often survive the vagaries of our weather with a population boom and bust over time, we shouldn’t be complacement.

“Last year’s State of Nature report showed that since 1970, inverterbrates have seen a 59% decline. As well as having their own intrinsic value, butterflies, bees, hoverflies and other insects are important pollinators.

“We can all do something to help – whether we only have a window box or manage acres of land.

“The gardeners amongst us can ensure that we’ve planted nectar and pollen rich plants as well as trying to ensure that we’ve got as many flowering throughout as much of the year as possible.

“From a landowner or farmer point of view, it’s often not possible to leave an entire field fallow but there is usually an opportunity to create some space for wildlife – leaving wide floristic margins on the edges of fields is the obvious option.”

The Trust is currently running a pollinator project where more than 20 farmers in a couple of clusters are working together to help beneficial insects on their farms and through the wider landscape.

Tagged with: Species