It hardly seems possible but the butterfly transect walking season is fast reaching its end for another year. The weekly walks begin at the beginning of April and go on until the end of September. So it looks to me as though there are about five left to do. How time flies. The transect walks have been conducted each year for some thirty years and provide all sorts of valuable information, not least, the winners and losers in terms of species each year. This year started slowly due to the rather dismal weather throughout April and into May. However, things did pick up and I am very happy to be able to say, as of last week, numbers of butterflies counted were up on last year by eighty one percent. Of course, I am talking Dorset, I don't, as yet, have the nationwide figures. I imagine this increase is, if not totally, partially due to the very long, hot dry spell we had last year. This would have provided ideal conditions and, no doubt, enabled a successful breeding season.
One of the big disappointments last year was the sudden collapse in numbers of the, previously, abundant Tortoiseshell butterfly. It really was incredible how suddenly and significantly the numbers of that species dropped. However, I am glad to say, this year once again my Buddleia bush is covered in Tortoiseshells feeding on the nectar. Red Admirals, a favourite of mine, have had a very good year and they too are regular visitors to my garden. Readers may have seen in the press the articles regarding Painted Ladies which are a migratory butterfly. In any event, this year they have come to these shores in great numbers. This would appear to be an event which occurs every few years and this year is one of them. Here in Dorset they have turned up in good numbers and have featured on the transect counts for several weeks now. They also have a liking for my Buddleia and most days there are two or three of them to be seen.
On the transect walks, which I do in two of The Woodland Trust woods, numbers of Speckled Woods, Meadow Browns, Gatekeepers and Marbled Whites have been good. Silver Washed Fritillaries have remained much the same. There has been an increase in several of the blue varieties of butterflies which is pleasing as they are such beautifully coloured specimens.
One of the woods, Duncliffe, which I look after and do the transect walk in has a flower meadow on the approach to the wood. This has been deliberately created from wild flower seed sourced locally. It provides superb feeding for all sorts of butterflies, bees, grasshoppers and crickets and all manner of other insect life. If ever there was an example of the benefits of not using agricultural chemicals on a piece of land, this flower meadow is surely it. The amount and range of insect life it supports is quite amazing. It is a sobering thought that once upon a time, and not that long ago, certainly within my lifetime, most of our fields and meadows were like the Duncliffe one. How sad we have lost so much habitat. The good news is most of it could be reclaimed in equally short time if only the will was there to do it. I firmly believe what goes around comes around and there is growing evidence that farmers are beginning to come around to using less or no chemicals. If only there was a payment for doing so the trickle would, no doubt, become a rush.