Posted by: Ross Gardner | June 27, 2018

Butterfly times

Painted Lady 8 (resize)

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)

There was a time, not too long ago, when butterflies were everywhere.  I suppose it’s not always exactly the case that we don’t see them in the places we used to (although for some UK species this far too true), rather that even though we still see them we used to see more.  Forgive me a moment’s wistful nostalgia, but I am given to recall a large Buddleia (aka Butterfly Bush)  in my parent’s back garden.  Going back to the 1980s I can remember summers when I could count the assembled Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock, Large White and Comma, Painted Lady and Red Admiral in their combined dozens sating themselves on the massed blooms.  At peak times there must have been 50 or 60 butterflies, perhaps more, crowded onto the bush.  Even if the intervening years have served to exaggerate the memory, it would not be by much.

Sadly nowadays a like bush would attract but a fraction of that number.  The reasons for this decline?  The familar faces of habitat destruction and intensive agriculture show themselves once again.  Who knows what effects the widespread use of the same neonicitinoid pesticides attributed to the infamous plight of the Honey Bee may be having on our butterflies too?

Spots of light amid the gloom are there to be found however.  Butterfly Conservation have reported the success of “landscape-scale conservation projects” in halting some of these declines.  A glimmer of my own I found on the North Downs a few days ago.  A visit to an old favourite – Kemsing Down.  The sunny slopes were quite teeming with butterflies.  There were Dark Green Fritillary flying purposefully among the sward and Common Blue attracted by the swathes of Bird’s-foot Trefoil, their larval foodplant.  Small Heath seemed to flutter up in places with every other footstep, with Meadow Brown present by the dozen.  And the Marbled White – what a show!  It almost sometimes seemed as if there were as many of them as everything else put together.

Kemsing is a wonderful area for butterflies; I have seen 30 species here over the years, Dingy Skipper, Grizzled Skipper and Chalkhill Blue included.  Are such sites as this the repositories from which we many replenish the repairs to our broken countryside?


Marbled White (Melanargia galathea)

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