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Posted by Jes

Garden Survey Findings 2012

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.

Comments received were more mixed this year. Some reported great experiences of high numbers, especially during August and September with one recorder finding over 50 butterflies in his garden. Other surveyors reported a “bad year” with low numbers of butterflies. One recorder said that low numbers prevailed with the exception of the Small Tortoiseshell but some did not experience this end of season tortoiseshell bonus.

The total number of species recorded in the gardens surveyed was 15. The Small White, Small Tortoiseshell, Red Admiral and Peacock were recorded in all gardens while the Cryptic Wood White was reported from the least recorded of the 15 species. The butterfly with the highest number of individuals recorded on a single count is the Small Tortoiseshell, with 50 recorded by Pat Bell and 47 by Patrick Sheridan.

The most numerous white was the Large White and the Holly Blue, which does appear to favour suburban gardens, is the most numerous of the Lycaenids, followed by the Small Copper. The dates that the Holly Blue was recorded indicate two broods were produced in the east midlands in 2012; one respondent recorded the butterfly on 27/03, 02/08 and 01/09. A noteworthy record is of ten sightings of Holly Blue in Elaine Mullin’s garden in Portmarnock on the Dublin coast on 14/08. However no third brood was recorded in the garden. The Meadow Brown had higher numbers of individuals recorded than the Speckled Wood, but both were found in the same number of gardens. The Meadow Brown produces larger populations than the Speckled Wood so this finding is unsurprising.

The earliest and latest garden records were of the Small Tortoiseshell with the earliest on March 18th [Ann Baskett] and the latest on October 12th [Jesmond Harding]. On September 22nd a Small Tortoiseshell was seen flying around one respondent’s garden at 10 am with air temperatures at six degrees Celsius and a sharp grass frost. Certainly the Small Tortoiseshell is a resilient species. The urban/suburban garden with the highest number of species recorded was that of Pat Bell in Maynooth with eleven butterfly species; the highest for a rural garden was the garden of Jesmond Harding north of Maynooth where 15 species were found.

The gardens that provided both larval food plants as well as nectar sources had significantly higher numbers of species than those that provided nectar only. This finding is important because it suggests that butterflies can use gardens for their full life cycle, and that gardens have a role to play in conservation. 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 appeal to all who garden not to grow invasive non-native flowers, no matter how attractive these are to insects. It is very worrying to see the damage to natural habitats being done by non-native plants like Red Valerian, Montbretia and the various cotoneaster species. These are invasive plants that overwhelm natural vegetation and the problems that they cause can be seen in parts of the Burren and elsewhere. However, some non-native plants are great attractants and do not invade natural habitats. A particular recommendation is the shrub Hebe x andersoni variegata whose magenta blooms are a powerful draw for butterflies. This easily managed evergreen shrub reaches about one metre in height/spread and can be grown from cuttings.

Get Involved
We hope to expand the garden recording scheme further in 2013.Our website www.butterflyconservation.ie contains information about butterfly gardening; click on the “Life-cycle” tab and select “Garden” for details. The survey form can be downloaded from here but if you need a hard copy please request one by emailing us at conservation.butterfly@gmail.com or by letter to Butterfly Conservation Ireland, Pagestown, Maynooth, County Kildare. If you have any doubts about the identity of any 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 better season ahead after the mixed summer in 2012.