Most readers will, no doubt, recall the dire warnings and prophecies of doom which were being cast far and wide last year with regard to our butterfly population. The subject made most of the newspapers, it featured in a number of T.V. programmes and also on news bulletins. Basically, we were told, the butterfly population had hit rock bottom and many varieties faced extinction. Even David Attenborough, who is president of Butterfly Conservation, added his voice to the throng. Yes, last year was not the best on record for butterflies and the recorded numbers dropped. However, I have long held the belief, seasons come and seasons go and some are good, some are bad but, overall, Mother Nature has a way of sorting most things out and things generally right themselves. There are always many, many, things which impact upon the fortunes of any species never one single item. Temperature, rain, wind, food supplies to mention just a few. The worst effects are usually felt, in my opinion, when a number of those factors conspire and occur together. It is then that things start to seriously go wrong but, come the next season things are restored and, hey ho, everything begins to recover.
This year has undoubtedly been unusual for its long, hot, dry, period and as such it has had benefits for butterflies. As a transect walker for Butterfly Conservation, I undertake two walks each week in the woods which I look after for the Woodland Trust. In both of woods there have undoubtedly been a large number of butterflies, not only that, but also a number of species previously rarely seen or unrecorded. The transect walks take place from the first of April through until the end of September. A few weeks ago, at the halfway stage of the walking period, the count numbers for the whole of Dorset were fifty-one and a half per cent up on the numbers recorded over the same period last year. To date, the number of Common Blue butterflies is almost at the level of the all-time high for my two woods. I strongly suspect, by the time next weeks walks have been completed, that record will have been broken.
White Admirals have appeared again this year, Clouded Yellows and White Letter Hairstreaks. The latter even appeared in my garden one afternoon. I am several miles from the woods so this was not, I suspect, one from there. Apart from the fact that I have quite a lot of elm trees around my field, which is the feed plant for the White Letter Hairstreak, it is difficult to understand why that one paid a visit. There has never before been a record of that species in a village in which I live. The nearest known, small, colony is getting on for twenty miles away.
In general terms then, it is looking increasingly likely, the Dorset records will show a huge rise in numbers of most butterfly species. I wouldn’t mind betting that the same sort of results will be recorded throughout the country. This has been a good year, but just as easily, next year could be another bad, one that is how it goes.
One very notable and, perhaps, a little negative impact of the heatwave has been the fact that large numbers of butterflies have been recorded by me in the bottom of ditches. No doubt the lack of moisture is the reason. Although fairly dry, the ditch bottoms have retained a degree of moist earth and I think this is the attraction for the insects.
Before I finish, may I remind readers, The Great Butterfly Count is still on and anyone interested in submitting sightings of butterflies in their garden or local area may do so by going to the Butterfly Conservation website.