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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 and available by post on request requests the participant to record the 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 2016. No surveyor reported very high numbers; the highest number of butterflies counted in one day in 2016 was 25 (24 in 2015) down from 50 butterflies on one date in 2014. July and August did not see high numbers probably due to dull conditions and rain, especially during August. However, there was some good, sunny weather at times when high levels of butterfly activity can be observed, especially following a few days of rain. September was very mild, but generally dull (excellent conditions for nocturnal moths). A notable feature was that reports of Painted Lady were up on previous years.

The total number of species recorded in the gardens surveyed was 14, like in 2015, but down from 17 in 2014. The Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock were recorded in all gardens while the Holly Blue was reported by only three surveyors, but one surveyor, Elaine Mullins from Portmarnock submitted 31 records of the butterfly. The species with the highest number of individuals recorded on a single day is the Small Tortoiseshell, with 25 recorded by Jesmond Harding. The lowest number of records were for the Cryptic Wood White and Small Copper at one each; last year no Small Coppers were reported.

The Large White and Small White were the most frequent of the whites with Green-veined White having another weak showing. A count of 106 Large and Small Whites in Elaine Mullins’s coastal garden underlines the strength of coastal populations of the “cabbage whites.” The Holly Blue numbers have not reached the peaks found in the early 2000’s up to 2007. The dates that the Holly Blue was recorded indicate that at least two broods were again produced in the east midlands in 2016; Pat Bell recorded the butterfly on 20/04 (first generation), 25/07 and 03/08 (second generation). Elaine Mullin’s garden in Portmarnock on the Dublin coast recorded two broods. Elaine recorded the butterfly in May (first generation) and August (second generation). No third brood Holly Blue was recorded in any garden in 2016 or 2013 but there was evidence of a third brood in 2014 and 2015. No Common Blue, Silver-washed Fritillary or Brimstone butterflies were reported in 2016. The Meadow Brown had a good year in our gardens as did the Speckled Wood. The Meadow Brown was the most numerous brown in 2016 but neither it nor the Ringlet or Speckled Wood showed in high numbers. The Painted Lady was much more frequent in our gardens in 2016 but not numerous. The Red Admiral continued to favour flower and fruit-rich gardens. The highest number of Red Admirals reported was 10 on 10/09, by Pat Bell.

The earliest and latest garden record was of the Small Tortoiseshell on 13/03 and Red Admiral on 24/10 (Pat Bell, County Kildare and Jesmond Harding, County Meath respectively). 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 13 species. Other interesting records were of dragonflies and damselflies with Pat Bell recording Common Blue Damselfly, and Migrant Hawker in his garden. Ann Baskett had two Brown Hawkers patrolling the garden hedgerow on 15/08.

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.

Holly Blue, present in some ivy-clad gardens.©J.Harding.

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 gardeners not to grow invasive non-native flowers. It is worrying to see the damage to natural habitats being done by non-native plants like Red Valerian, Montbretia and the various cotoneaster species. These invasive plants overwhelm natural vegetation and the problems that they cause can be seen in parts of the Burren, the sand dunes at North Bull Island, Baltray and elsewhere. Finally, we make a plea to all gardeners to avoid the use of chemicals in the garden. 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 2016. 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 2017.