Butterflies in the News
Although this website is priciply about Hampshires Butterflies and Moths flora and fauna. Conservation projects in other counties up and down the UK are important, and to see how we can improve what we are doing in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight
Pearl Bordered Fritillary
Mabie Forest Galloway in Scotland
Rock Rose and Horseshoe Vetch
Belted Galloway cattle
Under-side patterns of the beautiful Heath Fritillary
Victory Wood in Kent
Large Tortoiseshell adult
Large Tortoiseshell caterpillars feeding on Elm they also feed on sallow.
Marbled White numbers increased by 66% in 2020
How cattle are helping rare butterflies to thrive at Mabie Forest
A forest in the south of Scotland is seeing a rare butterfly thrive thanks to a surprising friend.
The distinctive Belted Galloway cattle are being used to help the pearl-bordered fritillary flourish.
The last full survey at Mabie Forest near Dumfries in 2019 found numbers had more than doubled on the previous year.
Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS) has been using a range of methods to help the local colony - including letting the heavy cattle in to graze.
The pearl-bordered fritillary has seen numbers rapidly decline across Britain and Ireland, although the fall has been less marked in Scotland.
However, it was still identified in the Scottish Forestry Strategy 15 years ago as one of the country's six priority species.
The forest in Dumfries and Galloway has been at the front line of fighting its corner.
A team of FLS staff manage the vegetation at the forest fringes from April to September to encourage the ground conditions that the butterflies need to thrive.
They also allow a herd of Belted Galloways to keep the grass from getting too long and to create the sort of wet habitat and muddy hollows that the butterflies like.
FLS regional environment advisor Bill Coombes said the story went back to the mid-1990s when - working with Butterfly Conservation Scotland (BCS) - Mabie was identified as having a good habitat for biodiversity in general and butterflies in particular.
Environmental work was carried out to allow wild flowers and grasses to develop.
"To encourage particularly butterflies we have also done some enrichment planting with things like rock rose and dog violet which are particularly attractive as food sources for these butterflies and their caterpillars," he said.
"The numbers of the pearl-bordered fritillary have increased dramatically over the years.
"Of course all it takes is a cold wet spring and the numbers can drop off again," he said.
However, he said numbers had gone from 145 recorded in 2017 up to more than 400 in 2019 - which showed that the general trend was upwards and was good news for the species.
Mr Coombes said heavy cattle had played their part in supporting one of Scotland's biggest colonies.
"Normally in an open grass area, the coarse grasses will take over and gradually push out the wild flowers," he said.
"So having something like the hardy Belted Galloway, they tear up the grass as they are grazing and when they are walking across the site they also break it up, exposing bare ground.
"They give a seed bed to the wild flowers to come in and give them a chance to produce the food for the caterpillars and also for the butterflies themselves.
"It is using a natural system which would have been there in the past as well."
Tom Prescott, BCS senior conservation officer, said the work which had been done was paying off for the pearl-bordered fritillary.
"They are very much a threatened species, they are a priority species - they are on the Scottish biodiversity list and they are a high priority in the BCS conservation strategy," he said.
"Mabie is probably one of the best sites in Scotland, possibly one of the best sites in the UK.
"It is a species that is still declining in lots of parts of the country but it seems to be bucking the trend at Mabie.
"That is probably almost entirely due to the wonderful work that FLS have been doing."
Mr Prescott said rare butterflies and moths were "really, really fussy".
"What pearl-bordered fritillary require is their caterpillars only feed on dog violet and - more than that - the dog violet has to be in a really warm microclimate," he said.
He said that made what was being done at Mabie "very significant".
"So often we are talking about declines of species and being lost from sites so it is really, really nice to report on a species that is doing well," he said.
He said other species, too, were thriving at Mabie such as the forester moth.
Mr Prescott added that the role that nearby livestock were playing was "well known in butterfly circles".
I spend a good deal of my time talking to farmers encouraging them to get more cattle - particularly species like Belted Galloway and Highland cattle - traditional breeds that are hardy enough and able to stay outside," he said.
"Just a few cattle, it just keeps some of these areas really open.
"Where they are walking and they are trampling that creates little areas of bare ground where their hoof prints are and then that is ideal for a germination site for violets or for nectar plants."
At Mabie Forest, it is also allowing their much smaller and more fragile neighbours to flourish.
One of Britain's rarest butterflies has been saved from extinction
The Heath Fritillary is a species of butterfly that was close to extinction in the UK, but thanks to efforts from the Woodland Trust, a new population has been discovered at a conservation site in Kent.
The site, called Victory Wood, was saved from becoming a potential landfill area in 2004 by the charity.
The Woodland Trust has since been recording the wildlife as it returns to Victory Wood.
Site manager, Claire Inglis, said: "The discovery of heath fritillary is a wonderful find and comes after many years of hard work from volunteers and members of the Trust to restore the site to some of its former glory.
This rare butterfly returning shows the importance of this work and we hope to discover more species colonising the site in the months and years to come."
The rare butterfly needs a special set of conditions in order to breed and thrive in an area.
It only lays its eggs on a certain plant, the common cow-wheat plant, but the plant is slow to spread and relies on wood ants to carry its seeds to new areas.
Steve Wheatley, Butterfly Conservation's Regional Conservation Manager, said: "This relationship between the ants, the trees, the flower, and the butterfly is just magical."
Woodland Trust staff noted the presence of wood ants and the reappearance of cow-wheat, and in summer 2020 Mr Wheatley surveyed the area and found it could support the return of the butterfly.
But, signs of the insect in earlier stages of their life cycle - butterflies come from caterpillars - were needed to prove that the butterflies had settled and were using the site.
This spring Butterfly Conservation and Woodland Trust staff and volunteers got down on their hands and knees to look for the caterpillar.
Eventually they spotted the small caterpillar on an oak leaf, and another one not too long after, leaving the team confident that the rare butterfly has now begun to repopulate itself at the site.
"This discovery proves the heath fritillary is now resident at Victory Wood and is an example of how working in partnership is having a positive effect on our native species", added Steve Wheatley.
UK butterflies bounce back to best levels for 20 years, survey finds
23 March 2020
Last updated at 13:32
They're beautiful, bright and we have some brilliant news about them - we're talking about butterflies!
The results for the annual UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme are out, and it's positive news for the butterfly community.
They're at their highest levels in more than 20 years.
There was an increase in butterfly numbers for more than half of UK species in 2019 compared with 2018.
Researchers think the weather had a big part to play in this.
We had a warm and wet summer in 2019 which helped butterflies in their younger stages and when they emerged from their cocoons as adults.
More than 3,000 sites were monitored across the UK by a team of volunteers.
They found the Marbled White Butterfly had its best year, with numbers up by 66%.
However, it's not all good news, the Common Blue dropped by 54% - and it was just one of several species that saw a decline in numbers,
Professor Tom Brereton, associate director of monitoring and research at Butterfly Conservation, said butterfly numbers were still a cause for concern but added: "The results from the 2019 season are really encouraging and provide evidence that the overall rate of decline of butterflies is slowing and for some species being reversed.
"We're really heartened to see a shift in the fortunes of many of our most loved species."
Evidence of Large Tortoiseshell eggs & larvae has been found on Portland – the first time they have been detected wild in the UK for 70 years!
There has been a lot of speculation about the initial origin of Large Tortoiseshells on Portland and we have thought for some time now that they must be breeding there.
Just too many have been seen in the same places for days at a time for them all to be primary immigrants.
With Elm being reported to be the favoured foodplant, the woodland at Pennsylvania Castle/Church Ope Cove seemed likely to be a good place to host a colony.
Will Langdon, who has been following the Large Tortoiseshell trail on Twitter decided to go to Portland on 14/06/2020 to have a look around and succeeded handsomely in his quest with the discovery of the first obvious signs of larval damage.
He tried the Church Ope Cove area and after a few hours searching he eventually found an old larval web, at the eastern end of the ruins of St Andrew’s Church (SY 69698 71117).
The identification was a bit of a challenge for Will as it was about 5-6m up, and while it looked perfect for Large Tortoiseshells, he couldn’t see any larvae in it, or anywhere nearby on the tree.
He tried climbing the tree, but couldn’t get far enough out along the branch to check fully so decided fairly drastic measures were needed to confirm things. He got some shears, climbed the tree, and cut the branch off (after making absolutely sure from the ground there were no larvae!).
This enabled him to see the original egg batch, and 3 sets of shed larval skins (2nd, 3rd and 4th instar he thought). By his own count, there were about 175 eggs, 55 2nd instar skins, 45 3rd instar skins, and 5 4th instar ones.
From what he has been able to glean from the internet and books he felt that it appears to be a classic spot for larvae – a warm, little clearing, sheltered on all sides by taller trees and about 5-6m up on a tree facing S/SW.
He searched the trees as thoroughly as he could from the ground with binoculars and could see no sign of any larvae – what with the size of the larvae seen in Weymouth at the start of the month and the hot weather, he thought that they had already pupated.
The damage was fairly obvious from the ground, which made him think that he didn’t miss any other webs in the areas that he was able to search properly.
There are also a few more elms in gardens off Church Ope road to the north, and on the road heading through Wakeham and north out of Easton. They’re planted as street trees on the side of the road at the latter location, so a little exposed, but nice and sunny, so might be good and worth checking.
Action needed now
A report of a fresh adult Large Tortoiseshell on Portland in Perryfield Quarry (not too far from the larvae-stripped elm at Church Ope Cove) has been received so others could now be on the wing.
We would therefore now ask and encourage as many of you as possible to go out looking for these butterflies on Portland and help to chart what will hopefully be their spread.
Please do ensure that when you are out searching you follow all the Covid-19 guidelines regarding social distancing etc and do not trespass on private land.
Any seen from now ought to be spending their time building up food & energy for a long hibernation. Observations of what they are feeding on & any other activities observed would be very useful.
Please email details of all your sightings of Large Tortoiseshells to our Records Officer for Dorset, Bill Shreeves at firstname.lastname@example.org and also enter your sightings on the Dorset branch recording site at:
The Dorset Group of Butterfly Conservation would very much like record their thanks to Will Langdon for all the information he has given us and for allowing us to use this information and his photos in this article. Without it we would not have been able to pass this information to you.
Common Blue numbers dropped by 54% in 2020