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Butterflies & Moths
Butterfly & Moth Details
B u tt e rfl ies
2013 has been the best of years, but it has also been the worst of years! What a roller coaster year and, indeed, two years our butterflies have had. After several poor years, 2012’s dreadful summer seemed to have put our beleaguered butterfly populations into terminal decline. Sir David Attenborough stated, “last year’s washout weather proved a disaster for our butterflies; these conditions coupled with ongoing long term declines, means there are probably now fewer butterflies in the UK than at any point during my lifetime”.
With the start of a new year, we kept our fingers crossed for a dramatic improvement in the weather. Hopes were soon dashed after a cold winter was followed by the coldest spring in fifty years. Month after month at the Berkshire Moth Group meetings members, who had been recording moths for many decades, were bemoaning that all species were doing badly – very badly!
Then, with the arrival of July, the cold and the wet were replaced with sunshine – and lots of it. The dramatic improvement in the weather saw an explosion in lepidoptera numbers, with butterflies seemingly on every flower and moth traps heaving with moths. But there were winners and losers. In the moth world, numbers of species like Peach Blossom were up, while others like Heart and Dart fared less well.
If a butterfly was a winner or loser in 2013 depended on whether the adult’s light period was in the poor first half of the year, or the beautiful second half, and how the egg/caterpillar/pupa stages coped with the poor weather periods.
So who were the winners? In woodlands, the majestic Purple Emperor and Silver-washed Fritillary both did very well. The whites had a phenomenal year with Large, Small and Green-veined all joining forces which, at times, seemed like clouds of super-sized snowflakes. Later in the summer, we had good numbers of the Clouded Yellow (left) from the Continent, an event that only happens occasionally. But the stand-out winners were everyone’s favourites, the Peacock (which was up by 3,500% in the Big Butterfly Count), and the Small Tortoiseshell. This last species was once the commonest “coloured” garden butterfly, but over the last decade has seen a disastrous fall in numbers. To see such a dramatic return, for me, made it the star of the show.
So, with exceptional weather, we have seen that our butterflies can return to the numbers of yesteryear. Our challenge is to restore our countryside so that we can see them in good numbers in more normal weather years. Grahame Hawker
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