Garden Survey Report
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 and available by post on request 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 food plants. Twenty butterflies are listed for recording.
Comments received were more positive this year but not universally upbeat. Some reported great experiences of high numbers, especially during August and September with one recorder finding 52 butterflies in his garden on one date in August. One recorder reported low numbers throughout the season and most stated that the Small Tortoiseshell was present in lower numbers this year.
The total number of species recorded in the gardens surveyed was 15. The Small White, Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock were recorded in all gardens while the Holly Blue was reported by only two surveyors. The butterfly with the highest number of individuals recorded on a single day is the Meadow Brown, with 37 recorded by Jesmond Harding. The most exotic butterfly recorded was the Silver-washed Fritillary which was recorded on August 6th by Richella Duggan in Westmeath and on August 7th by Patrick Sheridan in Kildare (note: the gardens of these two surveyors are not nearby and the Silver-washed Fritillary is not known to be very mobile).
The most numerous white was the Large White but the Small White was close behind. The Holly Blue numbers have declined and the most numerous of the Lycaenids in 2013 was the Small Copper. One male remained in Jesmond Harding’s garden for 11 days in June, using a Common Knapweed as his territorial perch point throughout his stay. The dates that the Holly Blue was recorded indicate two broods were again produced in the east midlands in 2013; one respondent recorded the butterfly on 23/04, 23/07. Elaine Mullin’s garden in Portmarnock on the Dublin coast recorded one brood, in May. However no third brood was recorded in any garden in 2013. Common Blue numbers were low. The Meadow Brown had a good year in our gardens as did the Speckled Wood, and both species were found in the same number of gardens in both 2012 and 2013.
The earliest garden record was of the Small Tortoiseshell with the earliest on April 6th [Pat Bell] and the latest was a Red Admiral, on November 6th [Elaine Mullins, Portmarnock, County Dublin]. On October 9th 10 Red Admirals were present in Elaine’s garden, feeding on a late flowering Buddleia and basking on Oregon-grape (Mahonia aquifolium). Red Admiral numbers often build in coastal areas in mid-autumn. The urban/suburban garden with the highest number of species recorded was that of Pat Bell in Maynooth with 11 butterfly species; the highest for the rural gardens were the gardens of Jesmond Harding north of Maynooth and Patrick Sheridan near Enfield with 13 species each. Other interesting records were of odonates (dragonflies and damselflies) with Pat Bell recording Blue-tailed Damselfly, Common Blue Damselfly and Migrant Hawker in his garden.
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.
Gardens with Buddleia had high numbers of Butterflies, and the plant is especially attractive to the Large White, Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock and Red Admiral.
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.
We hope to expand the garden recording scheme further in 2014.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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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 another good season in 2014.