With the glorious bursts of spring sunshine last week it was not surprising that our gardens were receiving welcome visits from the first emerging butterflies. Peacocks, Small Tortoiseshell and Commas were all out on the wing bringing a much needed flash of colour and joy into our lives, and a reminder that nature continues even when many aspects of normal life are on hold.
The arrival of these newly emerged insects was timely, corresponding with the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme (UKBMS*) releasing the results of its 2019 surveys. Gathered through regular transect surveys across thousands of locations, the results prove that 2019 was the best year for butterflies since 1997. Several species, including Orange-tip and Brimstone butterflies, had their best year ever on record (since the UKBMS began gathering records in 1976).
Although there is much work still to be done to aid the recovery of native butterflies, and ensure populations are robust enough to weather future stochastic events, it is important to acknowledge the success of last year for these valuable pollinators. While this success may be, at least in part, due to the warm and wet conditions of 2019, we are also acutely aware of the huge amount of work Durham Wildlife Trust’s volunteer teams have done to protect and restore butterfly populations in the region.
Recent visitors to Rainton Meadows Nature Reserve will no doubt have noticed the Northern Task Force Volunteers’ coppiced woodland edges, which encourage the growth of a greater diversity of plants, supporting woodland species such as Speckled Wood and Ringlet butterflies.
The Heart of Durham Volunteers have been intrinsic to the survival of the Small Pearl-border Fritillary; a species that was known to exist at only three locations in County Durham in 2000. The creation of woodland glades at Black Plantation Nature Reserve, and planting the small pearl caterpillar food plant – marsh violets – across a number of connected sites, have been a key part to the recovery of this jewel-encrusted insect.
Meanwhile, the ‘Mag-lime’ Volunteers have been working hard to ensure the survival of two of the UK Biodiversity Action Plan species: the Dingy Skipper and Northern Brown Argus butterflies. Bishop Middleham Quarry and Raisby Hill Grassland nature reserves host a rich assemblage of plants, growing from the underlying magnesium limestone, providing vital habitat for native butterflies.
And for those who may have ventured to the striking expanse of mid-altitude heathland at Headley Hope Fell, you may have been fortunate to spot a Green Hairstreak butterfly keeping low amongst the bilberry and heathers. Durham Wildlife Trust’s Southern Task Force Volunteers ensure that encroaching bracken and scrub are controlled on the heath to ensure that this valuable habitat remains intact.
Butterflies are, perhaps, the best recorded invertebrate in Britain. Recognising changes to their populations can provide valuable insight into changes that are happening in the wider ecosystem and climate; changes which affect a great many species including us. So if you are fortunate to see a butterfly pass through your garden or outside your house please take a moment to enjoy it and let us know what you have seen through Facebook, Twitter or Instagram – using #dwtwildathome – or by sending us an email.
*The UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme is organised and funded by Butterfly Conservation (BC), the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (UKCEH), British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC). The UKBMS is indebted to all volunteers who contribute data to the scheme.