Conserving a key British species

By | Science & Technology
Monarch butterfly in flight.

A distinct, beautiful insect, the butterfly is a clear sign the British summer has arrived. Bringing a stunning elegance to the countryside, both the casual nature enthusiast and dedicated butterfly watcher may enjoy them from their back garden or out in the countryside. However, butterflies provide more than just an aesthetic value as their population numbers are an important indicator on the condition of the British countryside. Whilst scientists and conservationists are busy counting their numbers, the general public is also asked to submit any sightings.

Populations of any species are constantly fluctuating between years, dependent on a number of factors. Year to year butterfly numbers are largely affected by the weather, with warm conditions promoting their growth. This is especially important during the autumn months for winter hibernating species when they are collecting as much food as possible. However, over many years, a pattern in their population may be seen by the condition of their habitat. Butterflies are rather choosy over which plants they are willing to feed and lay eggs on and only with more, or an improvement of existing breeding grounds, will there be an increase in numbers. An attempt to introduce the mesmerising silver studded blue butterfly is underway by the National Trust, helping them make a home in a restored area of heathland at Black Down in West Sussex.

Recent warm weather and projects such as this are helping populations of butterflies to rise and expand across the countryside. It is important when conserving an animal, such as the butterfly, that their numbers are recorded in order to monitor if restorations and conservation efforts are having a positive effect. Anybody is able to learn about these fascinating little creatures and take note of what species they observe.

The European Peacock, photo credit @ Drriss & Marrionn via

Credit @ Drriss & Marrionn via

Spotting butterflies is both simple and relaxing. Just a short stroll through the local park or countryside may yield a host of inspiring species. Common species may be seen such as the small Tortoiseshell, with its vivid orange wings and black and yellow markings. The Comma butterfly, named for its distinct white ‘C’ shaped punctuation mark on the underside of its wings. The Red Admiral with its striking red, brown and black wings and the European Peacock startling its predators with bright, beautiful eye spots. All of these elegant insects may be noted just by peering out of the window into the garden.

Tracking down other species such as the scarce Purple Hair Streak is more challenging. This butterfly is dark silver on the underwing, revealing its splash of purple on the upper wing. The Purple Hair Streak hides away at the top of oak trees and is only visible for a short window of time making it somewhat elusive to spot. A pair of binoculars might be required to make of note of this species.

Recently the lepidopteron community was ecstatic following the sighting of the scarce Tortoiseshell. This Eastern European species, last seen in the UK 60 years ago, is thought to have crossed over from Holland where its numbers have grown. Its similarity to the common Tortoiseshell might make it a challenge to identify, but with a few unique features, such as yellow legs, anybody around Norfolk and Suffolk may attempt to discover new individuals.

Whether it’s a European Peacock or Purple Hairstreak all sightings noted, even from just a 15 minute stroll or sitting in the back garden, may be logged through the butterfly conservation charity. This runs up until the end of August:

Just by taking part the public may gain interesting insight into wildlife that is, quite literally, sitting on their doorsteps. By embracing the natural artistic beauty of butterflies, you are also offering valuable information that may help target conservation efforts into the right areas.

How else could the public collectively help in conservation efforts?


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