At our last Tuesday morning group trip to Northward Hill RSPB Reserve we had a great time finding and watching some of the special butterfly species that can be found there (such as Marbled White). Alan added a comment to my report – he wrote “Are butterflies getting rarer?” and added a link to a BBC Reality Check webpage. Here the authors mention that the Large Blue Butterfly is doing really well (best of all!) but they really failed to make enough of the fact that this species has received (and continues to receive) huge amounts of conservation resources. The Large Blue population is not sustainable without this attention and, if you want to see one, you will have to go where they are maintained. In Kent we have a number of butterfly species that do not have “naturally” sustainable populations.
The Heath Fritillary, for example, is the subject of constant conservation intervention by the RSPB and others at Blean Woods near Canterbury. Without this work the Heath Fritillary would probably follow the Small Pearl-Bordered Fritillary and the Pearl Bordered Fritillary into extinction in Kent. Both of the latter two species were formally widespread in Kent – but what about the species that we now call “widespread”? How many Peacocks and Red Admirals have you seen this year? Have you seen a Small Tortoiseshell in your garden? In my own case the answers are “hardly any” and “none”!
Sally and I record and report every butterfly that we see in Kent and I know of several other Gravesend group members that do the same. At Northward Hill (and at hundreds of other sites in the country) regular butterfly transect counts have been carried out for many years. Without this kind of information we can’t answer the questions about population change and we can’t direct conservation resources where they are most needed. Over the next three weeks everyone can join in and have a go at counting butterflies. The annual Big Butterfly Count organised by Butterfly Conservation starts Friday 20th July (ends 12th August). Get the information from their website and join in! Make sure you do at least one garden count but don’t forget parks and, of course, when you are out in the countryside.
At the moment we are seeing lots of Marbled Whites eg in Cobham Park. Meadow Browns are very common especially where bramble is still flowering, (but fewer Gatekeepers?). Commas are flying, and there is still time to catch up with Silver Washed Fritillary (there were some in Shorne Country Park last week). Speckled Wood can be found in shaded woodland rides. Send the results to Butterfly Conservation and let Alan and myself know by contacting us – I will try to put together some of the highlights of our sightings in a post on this site.
Thanks to Sally for the photographs.