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Garden Survey Findings

Butterfly Conservation Ireland members and members of the public participated in our garden survey from March to November inclusive. The survey form, available as a download from our website www.butterflyconservation.ie asks the participant to record the first date each butterfly listed on the form was first recorded in their garden in each of the following three month periods: March-May, June-August and September-November. In a final column the highest number of each butterfly seen and the peak date is given. Finally surveyors are asked to indicate which of the following attractants are provided in their gardens: Buddleia, butterfly nectar plants other than Buddleia and larval foodplants. Twenty butterflies are listed for recording.

Most comments received with the forms commented on how disappointing the numbers of butterflies were: “very disappointing” and “pretty desperate” were some of the phrases used especially as some surveyors had taken steps to improve their gardens for butterflies by planting nectar-rich plants and planting a native hedgerow to add food as well as to create warmth and shelter. These measures are worthwhile and will produce results given better weather.

A total of 14 were recorded in respondents’ gardens during 2011 down from 16 in 2010.Those recorded in 2011 were: Large, Small and Green-veined Whites, Orange-tip, Small Copper, Common Blue, Holly Blue, Red Admiral, Painted Lady, Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock, Speckled Wood, Meadow Brown and Ringlet. Of these the Small White, Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock were ubiquitous species. Regarding the number of individual butterflies the least numerous was the Painted Lady with a single record and most numerous was the Small Tortoiseshell with a peak figure of 21.

Of the white butterflies the Green-veined White was most numerous followed by the Small White and Large White. In the 2010 garden survey the Small White was the most numerous with the Large White close behind. Of the Lycaenids [Blues and Small Copper] the Holly Blue was the most numerous followed by the Small Copper. In 2010 the Small Copper proved the most numerous. Two broods of Holly Blue were noted in one Kildare garden. The highest recorded number of a brown butterfly was 9 Ringlets on 25/06 and 13/07.By comparison the Meadow Brown was the most numerous brown recorded in 2010 with a peak figure of 16 on 05/07.

For those interested in phenology the first record of 2011 of a garden butterfly was of a Small Tortoiseshell on 17/03 and the final record was of

a Red Admiral on 12/11. In 2010 the earliest record was of a Small White on 13/04 while the final record was of a Common Blue on 03/10.

The garden that saw the largest number of species in 2011 is Jesmond Harding’s garden [14 species] located between Maynooth and Dunboyne. Patrick Sheridan’s garden located near Enfield also had a high number of species [10 species] and numbers of individuals. Pat Bell’s suburban garden in Maynooth also had a good number of species [10] but smaller numbers of individual butterflies.

The most significant finding from the survey is that the species tally is vastly increased in gardens that offered nectar and larval foodplants compared with gardens that provided nectar only. The provision of Stinging Nettles, brassicas, Bird’s-foot-trefoil, Lady’s Smock and wild grasses in sunny, sheltered conditions is a great draw to butterflies and moths. Pushing the boat out a little more by offering Alder or Purging Buckthorn, Common Holly and native ivy will enrich the species count and numbers further.

We hope to expand the garden recording scheme further in 2012.Our website www.butterflyconservation.ie contains information about butterfly gardening; click on the “Life-cycle” tab and select “Garden” for details. If you have any doubts about the identity of any garden butterfly check our website by clicking on the “Butterflies” tab. Thank you for taking part in the scheme and please continue to be involved. Recording begins again in March and here’s hoping for a good season ahead after the disappointing summer in 2011