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Posted by Jes

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 generally positive this year but not universally upbeat. Some reported great experiences of high numbers, especially during July and September with one recorder finding 50 butterflies in his garden on one date in July. One recorder reported low numbers throughout the season and most stated that the Small Tortoiseshell was present in lower numbers this year. August did not see the numbers expected no doubt due to the cold and often wet weather during that month. One of the delights of garden recording is the thrill of seeing species in the garden for the first time and some respondents had this experience in 2014.

The total number of species recorded in the gardens surveyed was 17, up from 15 in 2013. The Large White, Red Admiral and Speckled Wood 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 39 recorded by Jesmond Harding. The most unusual butterflies recorded were the Brimstone and Silver-washed Fritillary recorded on 31/08 and 04/08 respectively by Patrick Sheridan in Kildare and the Cryptic Wood White recorded on 06/05 and 17/07 by Richella Duggan in Westmeath.

The most numerous white by some distance was the Small White followed by the Green-veined White with the Large White very close behind. The Holly Blue numbers have not recovered yet and the most numerous Lycaenid in 2014 was the Small Copper. The dates that the Holly Blue was recorded indicate two broods were again produced in the east midlands in 2014; Pat Bell recorded the butterfly on 21/04, 11/07. Elaine Mullin’s garden in Portmarnock on the Dublin coast recorded three broods with the butterfly recorded in April, May (first generation), August (second generation) and mid-October (third generation). No third brood Holly Blue 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 (found in all gardens). The Meadow Brown was the most numerous brown.

The earliest garden record was of the Small Tortoiseshell (Pat Bell) and Red Admiral (Elaine Mullins, Portmarnock, County Dublin] both on 11/03 and the latest was a Red Admiral, on 24/10 [Elaine Mullins, Portmarnock, County Dublin]. The Red Admirals present in Elaine’s garden feed on a late flowering Buddleia and bask on Oregon-grape (Mahonia aquifolium) and even on the garden swing! 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 13 butterfly species; the highest for the rural gardens was Patrick Sheridan’s near Enfield with 13 species. Only one garden recorded a Painted Lady in 2014. Other interesting records were of odonates (dragonflies and damselflies) with Pat Bell recording Blue-tailed Damselfly, Common Blue Damselfly, Brown Hawker 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. Growing Stinging Nettles, cabbages, 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. One may really be inspired to go still further by offering bruised over-ripe plums or dates which Red Admirals find irresistible.

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.

Get Involved

We hope to expand the garden recording scheme further in 2015. 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 another good season in 2015.