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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 not generally positive for 2015. No surveyor reported very high numbers; the highest number of butterflies counted in one day in 2015 was 24 down from 50 butterflies on one date in 2014. July and August did not see the numbers expected no doubt due to the cold weather during these months. Conditions improved later in September but the main flight season for most butterflies that visit gardens has passed at this stage. A notable feature was that reports of Hummingbird Hawk-moth came in from two surveyors (Patrick Sheridan and Pat Bell). While this species is a regular (but often scarce) migrant a sighting of this agile, dramatic and sporadic insect is far from guaranteed.

The total number of species recorded in the gardens surveyed was 14, down from 17 in 2014. The Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock and Speckled Wood were recorded in all gardens while the Holly Blue was reported by only three surveyors, but one surveyor, Elaine Mullins from Portmarnock submitted 41 records of the butterfly. The butterfly with the highest number of individuals recorded on a single day is the Meadow Brown, with 20 recorded by Frances Commins. The most unusual butterfly recorded was the Small Blue in Jesmond Harding’s garden; this record is the result of the eggs laid by females introduced to his garden in June 2014.

The most frequently recorded was the Large White followed by the Small White. The Holly Blue numbers have not reached the peaks found in the early 2000’s up to 2007. There was no Small Copper recorded in any garden in 2015. The dates that the Holly Blue was recorded indicate that at least two broods were again produced in the east midlands in 2015; Pat Bell recorded the butterfly on 10/04, 21/04, (first generation) 20/07, 05/08, 16/08, (second generation) 08/09 and 10/09 (probably second generation). Elaine Mullin’s garden in Portmarnock on the Dublin coast recorded at least two broods with a possible third brood. Elaine recorded the butterfly in April, May, June (first generation), August (second generation) and late September (possibly third generation). No third brood Holly Blue was recorded in any garden in 2013 but there was evidence of a third brood in 2014. Common Blue numbers were again 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 in 2014 but it may have been surpassed in abundance by the Ringlet in 2015. The Painted Lady was much more frequent in our gardens in 2015 but certainly not numerous. The Red Admiral continued to favour flower and fruit-rich gardens. The highest number of Red Admirals reported was 11 on 27/09, by Pat Bell.

The earliest and latest garden record was of the Small Tortoiseshell on 22/03 (Pat Bell, County Kildare and Jesmond Harding, County Meath) and 16/10 (Jesmond Harding, County Meath). 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 was Jesmond Harding’s with 14 species. Other interesting records were of dragonflies and damselflies with Pat Bell recording Common Blue Damselfly, Large Red Damselfly, Brown Hawker and Migrant Hawker in his garden.

Gardens that provide 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. Finally, we make a plea to all gardeners to avoid the use of chemicals in the garden. Although this is not fully proven there is strong evidence that pesticides may be killing huge numbers of insects, even non-target species. Water soluble chemicals that are absorbed into plant tissues make their way into pollen and nectar, affecting bees, moths, butterflies and other insects that visit flowers. Let your garden be a genuine wildlife garden where give-and-take prevails, and where your wild creatures are safe from poisoning.

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 a good season in 2016.