Butterfly Conservation - saving butterflies, moths and their habitats
Butterfly Conservation
saving butterflies, moths and their habitats
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Cumbria News

December 2016

Continuing the conservation theme we have been working at several sites in south Cumbria including Wartbarrow near Allithwaite quarry (close to Grange-over-Sands) This is a wonderful site and home to upwards of 20 species of butterfly including Wall, Grayling, Holly Blue and Small Pearl-bordered fritillary. On a recent visit, one of our volunteers discovered the rare and very local White-letter Hairstreak on elm. The first county record from this part of Cumbria. We have also cleared invasive scrub and excessive bramble from part of the species rich limestone grassland found on Hampsfell above Lindale and Grange. This site is still home to a population of the rare High brown fritillary and has good numbers of Northern Brown Argus and Common Blue. Another key site that has been improved this winter by both contract and volunteer work can be found at Farrer's Allotment at the southern end of Whitbarrow. BC paid for chain-saw operators to remove excessive hazel growth on former grassland areas to encourage all five resident species of fritillary butterfly. Volunteers have done a brilliant job in clearing up afterwards to allow plant species held in the seed bank to germinate and so restore the bio-diversity. In NW Cumbria our newsletter editor and Small Blue and Marsh Fritillary champion, Steve Doyle has been as busy as ever running work parties mainly in the Workington and Maryport areas. If you would like to help Steve please contact him here.

November 2016

Usually this monthly 'column' is focussed on recent butterfly news. This is more of a challenge in winter! However the work party season is now in full swing so I will concentrate on our conservation at key sites in south Lakeland and in the north west of Cumbria. First you will see under 'events' that we have a full programme of conservation work parties every other Wednesday and once a month on a Sunday from September to March. We work with loppers and bow-saws, and sometimes with trained brush-cutter and chain-saw volunteers to improve woodland, scrub and grassland habitat for our rare and endangered species. We work from 10.00am to 4.00pm and provide training and guidance where needed with all volunteers working at their own pace for comfort. You would be very welcome to join us for the rest of our programme. It is good healthy exercise, you get to visit some wonderful areas, you are part of a team of friendly volunteers and it is very rewarding to return in the spring/summer to see the benefit for butterflies, birds and flowers. If you would like to join us or require more information please contact Chris Winnick.

October 2016

Speckled Wood put in a good late show until the wet weather of mid-October. Eggs have been laid and these will hatch to give hibernating caterpillars. The previous generation (and in a good year they can produce up to three generations) will hibernate as pupae and so will emerge first in late March or early April. This is the only butterfly that routinely overwinters as both larvae and pupae. Red Amirals have continued to turn up in ones and twos weather permitting but as sightings diminish now is a good time to reflect on sightings over the year.

If you like butterfly data i recommend looking through the last three years of Cumbrian sightings, just enter the year and month required. You can also look at distribution and frequency of occurrence by clicking on the species you wish to see or the site to see what species have occurred there over time. If you really feel inspired please write up your findings as we would be delighted to print articles related to our three years of data in our newsletters. Forward these to our newsletter editor Steve Doyle by early March for our Spring issue.

September 2016

After a disappointing emergence of Peacock and Comma butterflies Painted Lady and Red Admiral have had a very good early autumn. Both are migrants from the continent with early arrivals in spring breeding to produce a second generation of British born adults. Numbers can be 'topped up' during the year by fresh arrivals however neither of these two beautiful 'Vanessids' can easily survive hibernation in the UK. We used to believe that most tried to hibernate but failed to survive the winter however research has shown that many second generation adults fly to the continent in one of nature's great migrations. BBC 4 recently broadcast a programme on Painted Lady butterflies travelling across Europe to the UK but the flight 'home' is even more remarkable! Indeed on the Lancashire sightings page 240 Red Admirals were seen heading south in a three hour period.

August 2016

What has happened to our Dark Green Fritillaries? After years of good numbers South Cumbria has had a second year running of poor emergence. If you have any records of DGF or HBF then if you have not let us know on our sightings page and do contact Chris Winnick or Tom Dunbar.

A second mini invasion of Painted Lady helped make up for lower than usual numbers of Peacock and Comma. Small Tortoishell and Red Admiral numbers will hopefully continue to build up as Peacocks go into their early hibernation. To watch late Summer and early Autumn butterflies at home do read the article in our Autumn 2016 Newsletter on butterfly gardening.

As the 2016 'butterfly season' draws to and end it is clear that our resident 40 species have had very mixed fortunes. How can we all help?

  1. BC needs more members so please help us encourage others to join, and do not forget that for just an extra £6.00 you can also join another branch. Also if possible join us on some of our Wednesday or Sunday conservation work parties. (see our latest Newsletter)
  2. Help to create a new butterfly friendly garden, or park border etc.
  3. Keep sending us your sightings of butterflies and moths on our sightings page. We need the data to show just what is happening regarding species distribution and numbers. Only with evidence can we hope to persuade those who hold the 'purse strings' to recognise the true value of a beautiful and healthy countryside.

July 2016

This month can now justify the title 'Hairstreak Season'. Until recently we had just a few Green Hairstreak sightings in spring and Purple Hairstreak sightings in July. However since the first sighting of a Cumbrian White-letter Hairstreak twelve years ago in Brigsteer Woods they have been found on or near Wych Elm in at least 15 locations. Recent discoveries include various sites near the Brettargh Holt Estate south of Kendal, just to the north of Kendal near the river, Wetheral east of Carlisle, Finstwaite in the Rusland valley and Allithwaite near Grange. Just as Wych Elm is under-recorded in Cumbria it appears that so too is WLH. Do you know of Wych Elm sites and could you help us track down more WLH sites as they must be out there?! You can egg search in the Winter or it will mean looking at the tops of Elm in July next year for the adult butterfly. Let Chris Winnick or Tom Dunbar know what you find.

As we search for hairstreaks more Purple Hairstreak colonies on Oak trees are being located. A good time to look is on a sunny day in July, especially on a late afternoon near the tops of Oak and adjacent Ash trees. They look like 'silver-pennies'.

Finally Brown Hairstreak (probably released at Gait Barrow NNR last year) have survived and both adults and eggs have been recorded (end of July/beginning of August). The North West now has resident four out of the five UK hairstreaks, probably for the first time in 100 years!

June 2016

With early June remaining warm and sunny some species have now emerged early. Mountain Ringlets were out at Irton Fell before the end of May and Meadow Brown, Large Heath and Dark Green Fritillary were all seen in early June. With the return of cooler and wetter weather this will now act to delay emergence again as butterflies will delay metamorphosis if it will help survival.

Although just out of county it is good to know that two MSc students from Lancaster University have been carrying out research on Warton Crag into the behaviour and requirements of PBF and SPBF butterflies. Their research should provide a valuable insight into how we can try to ensure that our nationally rare fritillaries survive in the Morecambe Bay area.

May 2016

At the risk of sounding like a weather report it is a delight to have a really warm and sunny month, with so many butterflies now on the wing. Remarkably butterfly emergence times have now almost 'caught up'. Pearl-Bordered Fritillary and Duke of Burgundy have emerged in low numbers however at least those adults that are about have had plenty of breeding and egg laying opportunities for the next generation. Another positive is that Small Blue have had an excellent emergence in NW Cumbria and have flourished on Barrow Slag Tips after their introduction to this site last year. Marsh Fritillary numbers are down on flood effected sites but other sites have done well and two new sites have been colonised without assistance. This is a huge boost to to all who have worked so hard on the Marsh Fritillary programme.

April 2016

The recent drier weather has been most welcome and has led to many more sightings on our Cumbria sightings page. If you live in or visit Lancashire you can enter your butterfly and moth sightings in exactly the same way on the Lancashire Butterfly Conservation sightings page. Also if you are planning visits to other parts of the UK most BC branches have their own sightings pages. So having noted what is 'on the wing and where' you can plan some great holiday walking!

March 2016

Another wet month has passed but does this really matter provided we have a warm and sunny Summer? Yes it does matter! Marsh fritillary caterpillars can survive flood water for weeks in certain circumstances but some sites will undoubtedly suffer reduced adult emergence. Eggs and pupae of most species are more prone to fungal attack and rot after prolonged and excessive rainfall. Let's hope the rain stops soon!

February 2016

During these long dark Winter days when we are starved of butterfly sightings what better than to read a good butterfly book! We will review some of the better reference books available at a later date (although if you would like some recommendations please contact me) however there are several excellent non-reference books available that are well worth a read.

Patrick Barkham's 'Butterfly Isles' is a beautifully written account of how a fascination of seeing Silver studded blue in Norfolk as a child eventually led him to seek out all of Britain's butterflies during the course of a calendar year. Easy to read and utterly charming it is a great book to read on a wet day.

More recently the National Trust published Matthew Oates's very personal and idiosyncratic 'In Pursuit of Butterflies: a 50 Year Love Affair' This book has been written as a diary of Matthew's passion to visit and record his favourite places and butterflies. His poetic and at times florid style may appear starved of science but this apparent lack of data belies his deep understanding of butterfly behaviour gained from a lifetime of observation. Thoroughly recommended.

Finally Peter Marren has written the delightful 'Rainbow Dust' Like the previous two books this is part auto-biographical but is also a 300 year history of our relationship with butterflies. It is a very easy and fascinating read from one of our countries top natural history writers.

January 2016

As we enter the new year it is unlikely that we will see adult butterflies on the wing for some time. However it is worth considering over the winter months 'where do our butterflies go' at this time of year? Of course some adults flying in the Autumn are now in hibernation, notably Peacocks, Small Tortoiseshells, Commas, Red Admirals and Brimstones. The Vanessids prefer indoor roosts in sheds, outhouses and lofts while Brimstones prefer shelter from foliage.

Of the remaining 52 species that can survive a UK Winter, 9 do so as eggs, 32 do so as hibernating caterpillars and the remaining 11 are already larvae (pupae) ready to emerge as soon as weather permits. All have 'anti-freeze' and are adapted to cope with several degrees of frost. Indeed in cold Winters more may survive with less predation and disease.

Looking at Cumbria's notable species all our Fritillary rarities are caterpillars with the exception of the High Brown whose larvae do not hatch until late March. However Fritillary caterpillars (like most others) will only arise from their winter hibernation to resume their almost insatiable appetite once their food plant is growing again and they themselves can raise their body temperatures high enough to digest their food.

December 2015

After a month of heavy rain and flooding it is difficult not to be concerned for our butterflies. Just what does a very wet and mild winter do for these 'delicate' insects?

The good news is they are not so 'delicate'! They are remarkably 'tough' and species in Northern England are here because they are adapted to cope with our long cold winters. But here lies the problem; as our winters become increasingly wet and mild through climate change butterflies and moths are unable to evolve at the same pace.

Outcomes from this change include a longer wetter grass growth period favouring taller, thicker grass growth. This helps explain why Ringlets have expanded their range while creating unsuitable habitat for some of our rare fritillary species. Another outcome is that overwintering eggs and especially larvae and pupae are more prone to rot, disease and predation if winters are less cold and dry.

If this sounds 'gloomy' there is some good news: butterflies have demonstrated time and again how resilient they are and with help from our conservation work there is every expectation that they will 'bounce' back.

November 2015

At the end of the 'butterfly year' it is not uncommon to reflect back on the 'highs' and 'lows' of what has been seen and recorded.

Sightings that are not recorded can be magical at the time but please let us know what has been seen on our sightings page so that data and data analysis can inform what would otherwise be anecdotal.

One study of data collected over the last 40 years has just been published and reported in the national and local press. The 'State of the UK's Butterflies 2015' report confirms some of our worst fears: in particular that '76% of the UK's resident and regular migrant butterflies declined in abundance, occurrence or both over the last 40 years'.

Cumbria's fritillaries are under serious threat but also of concern is that recently common UK wide species such as Wall and even Small Heath and Gatekeeper have suffered serious national decline. Reasons given include agricultural change, woodland neglect, pesticide use and climate change.

On the positive side there has been a partial national recovery in Duke of Burgundy, Dingy Skipper and Silver Studded Blue and migrant Clouded Yellow, Red Admiral and Painted Lady have all done well.

If you love seeing butterflies and moths do submit your sightings here (It is easy and quick to do!) Reports based on analysis of data do not always make for comfortable reading but do help BC and others present powerful and reasoned arguments for action.

We need the data to help us find not only the problems but hopefully also the solutions!

From all at Cumbria BC we hope you have a really good Christmas and New Year.

October 2015

Butterfly sittings may have taken a 'tumble' at the end of October but Speckled Wood and especially Red Admiral put on a fabulous 'late show'. As butterflies begin to over-winter so we start our volunteer work party season. Both our last newsletter and this web site (under Events) include details of how you can join us on a number of Wednesdays and Sundays between now and April. Any changes/updates are put out on our web site or contact me directly to confirm arrangements. We (and the butterflies) need your help..!

These work parties are aimed at improving woodland and grassland bio- diversity often in good butterfly locations but where lack of traditional management has led to habitat degredation. We work with landowners and if a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) with Natural England to help restore and maintain suitable habitat for our rare and specialist butterflies: notably fritillaries.

Training and guidance are provided, you work at a pace that suits you (usually with loppers and bow-saw) and they are also fun and sociable and come with good weather! It is also very rewarding to come back in the Spring/Summer to see butterflies and flowers enjoying the fruits of your labour. We hope to see you soon..!

September 2015

The sunny warm weather in September and early October has been brilliant for Vanessids; Peacocks, Commas, Painted Ladies, Small-Tortoiseshells and Red Admirals.

Earlier poor weather meant fewer Peacocks emerged in August than usual but they were able to enjoy good nectaring conditions to allow their usual early hibernation (I still do not understand why most Peacocks choose to hibernate long before the other Vanessids.) Recent Painted Lady sightings are offspring of those that migrated earlier in the year. Cumbria has had reasonable numbers of this stunning butterfly for the second year running.

Comma numbers have been geographically variable with some parts of Cumbria seeing few but others doing well. They will keep on the wing as long as warmth, nectar sources and rotting orchard fruit will allow. Small-Tortoiseshells continue to recover after their UK wide slump. Again they will continue feeding to build up their reserves of food to survive the Winter hibernation. However I have saved the highlight to last-with huge numbers of Red Admiral being reported well in to October (in exceptional years it is the only UK butterfly that can be seen on the wing in every month of the year!)

Perhaps it is the Autumn when we are reminded just how important urban gardens are as nectar sources. Buddleias lead the way in July/August but Asters (especially the taller 'old fashioned' Michaelmas Daisies. I recommend 'Marie Ballard' and 'Patricia Ballard'), Verbena Bonariensis, Sedum Spectablis and Ivy take over. Also do not forget to cut back some of your buddleia just BEFORE its first flowering to give you flowers in October! Late flowering buddleia and a wall covered in Ivy flowers in the sun (even at 14oC) are irresistible to Vanessids.

Autumn also is time to visit your neighbours gardens and city parks and gardens. Some of the best butterfly displays recently have been in Carlisle, Barrow, Kendal and coastal towns. I like to visit Holehird gardens near Windermere.

Butterfly gardening really can be so rewarding and great for photography too!

August 2015

This month my thoughts turn to 'new species' with the discovery (?) of a colony of Scotch Argus by the roadside on the A685 five miles west of Kirkby Stephen. Thanks to our brilliant sightings page we are receiving more reports about new and unusual sightings. Recently one report led a group of us to confirm that Scotch Argus were adjacent to a lay-by on the A685 between the turning to Newbiggin and Ravenstonedale. This poses a dilemma. Is this an old isolated colony, a new colony or perhaps even an extension to the much larger colony at Smardale? Equally you will have seen in this month's newsletter that following our successful White-lettered hairstreak egg hunt last November further small colonies have been found in SE Cumbria (and also near Penrith and Brampton.) Again this poses the question are these new colonies or have we only just discovered or even re-discovered them?

Steve Doyle found Silver-washed fritillary in Witherslack woods in the early 1990s after a twenty year abence. Was this a release of 'imported specimens' after the original colony had become extinct or had they always been there but had not been identified and reported?

It sometimes is not possible to be sure as to how much really is 'new'. We do know that some species have found their way into Cumbria by natural means eg. the Speckled Wood, Comma and Small Skipper have all expanded their range northwards. Equally it seems highly unlikely that this month's find of a Brown Hairstreak at Gaitbarrows could be such a natural colonisation as the nearest colony is 200 miles to the south.

Keep those records coming in as it is a fascinating story. I am certain there are more discoveries to be made!

July 2015

A number of Cumbria members led by Butterfly Conservation's Martin Wain and David Wainwright have been very active in searching for HBF's this year. Concerns were raised when their emergence was very late and only in very low numbers. This has been the UK's fastest declining butterfly with over 80% of former colonies lost in just the last 30 years. Now only found in Devon and the Morecambe Bay area (there is one site in S. Wales) remaining colonies have never been under such threat. Habitat conditions remain good at most sites but a run of poor weather years is proving a real challenge and may require a captive breeding plan for survival.

HBF were recorded at almost all known sites throughout July and as I write this well into August (could we even see HBF in September?) However sites that could count these beautiful butterflies by the dozen are down to two's and three's. One positive is that they are powerful flyers and even small colonies can survive by adults flying from one to the next to maintain genetic strength. We just need some better weather.

We need to keep monitoring the HBF (and PBF) situation. If you would like to help with our monitoring of both these rare and endangered butterflies please contact Chris Winnick.

June 2015

Sometimes no matter how much valuable habitat conservation takes place other factors come into play. We know that late June is the time when the High Brown Fritillary (the UK's most threatened butterfly) begins to emerge, but by the end of June not one had been seen. Equally by late June very few Mountain Ringlet had emerged. (Except at the very early site of Irton Fell.)

In the first case last years HBF numbers were down due to a long wet winter and any recovery has been set back by this years late Spring/Summer and very poor May. We have some wonderfully restored habitat for HBF with the right blend of bracken litter and violet but if the weather is poor they will suffer.

In the case of the Mountain Ringlet, as with many species, emergence has become earlier over the years with climate change. This years emergence was more in line with times past and good numbers soon built up in early July.

The HBF situation is more of a concern as despite our habitat work if poor weather and climate change leads to smaller and more isolated colonies then inbreeding and lack of genetic diversity become more of a concern and may require captive breeding and release (as with the successful Marsh Fritillary programme) to ensure their survival.

May 2015

May has been a month of survival! After a lovely April several species (including Orange tip, Speckled wood and Holly blue) started to emerge expecting good weather. It is worth considering just what does happen if butterflies are greeted by prolonged adverse weather.

Those that were close to emergence can delay for up to a few days. If emergence cannot be delayed any longer individuals will not be able to fly or mate or take nectar to help prolong their life. In the worst cases adults will die without 'parenthood' and all that this may mean for the next generation if a widespread problem.

Such problems are not new but with climate change could get worse. To reduce this risk individuals will usually emerge over a period of weeks and if cold/wet (as this May) flight period can lengthen, eg. the Duke of Burgundy had a very long five week period of emergence at Gaitbarrow. They can also survive for 2-3 days without nectar by slowing their 'energy burn' considerably and if there is a brief opportunity for procreation they will waste little time to mate, with egg laying taking place soon after. Our rare May emerging single- brooded PBF and DofB will have needed all these survival skills to leave behind enough eggs for next years emergence.

The good news is that they have survived difficult times before: the less good news is that these two demanding species have lost most of their colonies since the 1970's.

Now is a great time to see what is about and where to see it. Go onto our sightings page to see how easy it is to view or enter sightings of butterflies and day flying moths.

Did you come to our excellent Members Day and AGM at Tullie House Carlisle and at Finglandrigg? Thank you for all the excellent feedback on this, and thank you to all who took part in this event. (We were particularly pleased to welcome the new national chairman of BC, Jim Asher, who gave a very interesting presentation on butterfly issues in Dumfries and Galloway.) Also very well received was Gary Hedges illustrated talk on the work of Tullie House in keeping records of all things natural history for Cumbria.

Finally I want to thank Chris Addy for being on our committee for the last two years (we are delighted that Chris will continue to do very valuable conservation work for us at work-parties) and also to welcome both Clive Blew and Gary Hedges as new committee members.

April 2015

On 20th April ten met at abbeytown (NW of Wigton) to see an excellent presentation from Dr. Keith Porter (Natural England) on the Marsh Fritillary (MF) re-introduction programme in Cumbria (for more details on MF see our latest newsletter). I the afternoon we 'made history' by releasing 3,500 MF caterpillars at Thornyhill Meadows - a site south of Abbeytown that had not hosted MF for 70 years.

Keith, Steve Doyle and others have worked hard to get this and other former sites into the conditions required to once more support colonies of MF. With further releases this year and next year it is hoped that cumbria will soon support five clusters of sites (meta-populations) with a total of 17 sites/colonies of MF once more on the wing. Given that in 2004 the MF almost became extinct in Cumbria this has been a remarkably successful programme based on research and hard work. See our summer events/members day for details to see MF this year.

Cumbria branch has in the recent past supported one student with their research into butterfly education through design technology. Now we are supporting another from Lancashire university who is carrying out research into the habitat best suited to PBF/SPBF at Warton Crag.

Have you ever been to Warton Crag? A lancashire site just 10 miles south of Kendal, this really is a superb site for butterflies (see events as we have two guided walks there this year.)

BC offer congratulations to our friends who volunteer and work for Lancashire Wildlife Trust, RSPB (Leighton Moss) and Lancashire County Council who have done lots of excellent habitat improvement for the fritillary butterflies found on this wonderful site. Until 24th of April butterflies were showing up well (and on our sittings page) then the cold! Inparticular Peacock, Comma and Green- Hair-Streak made a very good start and Brimstone, Orange-tip and Speckled Wood were also beginning to show well. For all our records to date check our sightings page.

Finally in just a short time it will be our most important event of the year, our annual members day/AGM. This year it is on Saturday 6th June and is hosted by Tullie House museum and record centre in Carlisle (am) and at Finlandrigg NNR (pm) to see MF and other species at this superb site 7 miles west of Carlisle.

We are pleased to announce that Jim Asher (our new national chairman and a brilliant photographer) has kindly agreed to give a short illustrated talk on the butterflies of SW scotland. You and family/friends are all invited and we look forward to meeting you there. For further information please contact Chris Winnick.

March 2015

There has been a lot of valuable conservation work completed over the last seven months by both branch volunteers and contractors.

Volunteers have continued to meet on the second Sunday of the month and every other Wednesday at locations from Braithwaite near Keswick to Barker Scar near Grange-over-Sands. Work has included coppicing, shrub clearance and woodland ride maintenance creating and improving habitat for nationally rare fritillary and other butterflies.

Our volunteers do an amazing job with twenty one work-parties, 1,300 hours of un-paid work and using mainly loppers, bow-saws and sometimes chain-saws and brush-cutters. If you would like to see the places they work and the butterflies this work supports please look at our list of Summer field trips listed here.

Some tasks require substantial timber removal and where there is a major conservation benefit we have sometimes been able to fund contactor work. In addition much woodland management has been funded by woodland improvement grants facilitated by BC and others. This winter there have been significant contractor works at Farrar's Allotment (the southern end of Whitbarrow), Halecat Woods (behind Halecat Nurseries), Barker Scar and at other sites on private land.

Have you received our 30th edition spring 2015 newsletter? We wanted to do something a little special for this issue hence the extra pages (no extra cost for postage or printing in black and white) and the colour cover (which did cost extra). How do you feel about our newsletter? Did you like the changes made? What changes if any would you like to see? Let your chairman, Chris Winnick, have your feedback.

Also on our newsletters we congratulate Steve Doyle on his superb record for being our newsletter editor for all 30 newsletters since the Cumbria Branch of Butterfly Conservation was started by Steve and others in 2000.

Do you walk in places where you can identify the butterflies you see? If so please use our Sightings page to record your findings. It is easy to use and even if you do not enter data it is still a great place to see what butterflies are about and where to find them! Also if you visit places in Lancashire click on our Links section and then on Lancashire BC and to their Sightings page which now works in the same way as the Cumbria sightings page.

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