Sir David Attenborough has warned that UK butterflies face a critical summer after a string of poor years has seen the numbers of many common species decline.
Last year was the fourth worst on record for butterflies and Sir David is urging people across Yorkshire to take part in the Big Butterfly Count survey to help reveal how widespread species are faring this summer.
Common species such as the Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock, Meadow Brown and Gatekeeper experienced declines in 2016, but the warm, dry spring and early summer experienced over much of the UK so far this year could offer butterflies some respite if the good weather continues.
The Big Butterfly Count is the world’s largest butterfly survey, which encourages people to spot and record 18 species of common butterflies and two day-flying moths during three weeks of high summer.
Families are being invited to take part in their own garden or by attending a free guided butterfly walk in the Yorkshire Dales National Park from 2pm on Sunday 16 July at Willance's Leap (Swaledale), north-west of Richmond. Information on this event can be found on the events page
Butterfly Conservation President Sir David said:
“The next few weeks are a vital period for our butterflies. They need to make the most of this chance to feed and breed. “Last year, despite a warm summer, butterflies like the Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock, Meadow Brown and Gatekeeper saw their numbers fall as a warm winter and cold spring earlier in the year led to problems that affected their numbers later on.“Worryingly, we are now seeing the fortunes of some of our once common butterflies mirror those of our rarest species and they too are now also suffering significant declines with butterflies declining more rapidly in urban areas than in the countryside.“In the last decade our butterflies have experienced several poor years and although resilient, they simply cannot sustain repeated losses, especially if the habitats they need in order to rebuild their populations are also under threat.” More than three-quarters of the UK’s butterflies have declined in the last 40 years with some common species, such as the Small Tortoiseshell, suffering significant slumps.
This year’s Count follows new findings that butterflies are declining more rapidly in urban areas than in the countryside.
As many Big Butterfly Counts take place in gardens, parks and urban green space, this year’s results from these habitats will help inform conservationists on how to make our urban landscapes more butterfly-friendly.
Richard Fox, Butterfly Conservation Head of Recording said: “With increasing numbers of our common and widespread butterflies in long-term decline, Big Butterfly Count is more important than ever. Simply taking 15 minutes out of your normal day to enjoy the sunshine and count butterflies can help us monitor their populations. It’s a win-win for wildlife.”
Sir David added: “Taking part in the Big Butterfly Count is good for butterflies and it is also good for us all. The Count is good for butterflies because your sightings will tell us which species need help and in which areas we need to help them.“But the Big Butterfly Count is also good for you because 15 minutes spent watching butterflies in the summer sunshine is priceless; spending time with butterflies lifts the spirits and reinvigorates that sense of wonder in the natural world.”
The Big Butterfly Count is sponsored by Waitrose. Tor Harris, Waitrose Head of Sustainability and Responsible Sourcing, said: “We recognise the fundamental role pollinators play in the production of food and are committed to supporting their future which is why we're delighted to be sponsoring the Big Butterfly Count for the second year and helping grow this important event.”
The Count runs from 14 July to 6 August. Taking part in the Count is easy - find a sunny spot and spend 15 minutes counting the butterflies you see and then submit sightings online at www.bigbutterflycount.org or via the free Big Butterfly Count app. Click on the chart below to see a larger version.
May 2017 - Large Heath Monitoring
The Humberhead Peatlands National Nature Reserve, between Doncaster and Scunthorpe, is seeking volunteers to help count the Large heath butterfly, at one of its few sites in the county.
This bog specialist has declined dramatically across England, but its fortunes may be improving.
Restoring lowland raised mire has allowed the butterfly to recolonise parts of Thorne Moors.
Please help us to measure how much progress it has made, by joining our counts during June and July.
The counts would be suitable for anyone able to walk for 2-3 hours; training and guidance on site are provided.
March 2017 - An appeal for transect walkers on behalf of Dave Wainwright
Volunteers for Assisting with Butterfly Transects
Butterfly transect monitoring is undertaken in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (YDNP) to contribute to the United Kingdom Butterfly Monitoring Scheme (UKBMS), and is particularly important as there is limited information on the status of many common butterfly species in upland areas of the country. The transect data is also used to help determine population trends for the National and Local Biodiversity Action Plan (LBAP) priority species Northern Brown Argus, Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary and Small Heath in the YDNP.
We are looking for volunteers to help with the monitoring of these butterfly transects during the coming months. The method involves walking along a fixed route once a week and recording the number of butterflies that are seen. The walks can only be done in good weather conditions, so given the unpredictable Yorkshire weather and the vagaries of the weather forecasts we are looking for people who are have some flexibility during the key periods. The actual survey method is very straightforward and no previous experience is required, as full training can be given.
We have transects set up for all species that need a weekly visit between early April and the end of Sept. These are at Lea Green/Bastow Wood near Grassington, Wharfedale and Craven Limeworks at Langcliffe. There are also some Northern Brown Argus transects that need coverage from the end of May until the end of July at Oxenber Wood near Wharfe and Lower Winskill above Langcliffe, both in Ribblesdale and Long Ashes near Grassington.
If you would like any more information or would like to help out with any of the surveys, even for one or two weeks of the year, then please contact Ian Court, Wildlife Conservation Officer, Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority for more details – firstname.lastname@example.org or Tel: 01756 751602.
April 2016 - Opting in for printed copies of Argus
Important information for all BCY members.
Please read carefully.
This notice concerns the next issue of our annual lepidoptera report, Yorkshire butterflies and moths, Argus 75.
Each year butterfly conservation Yorkshire branch spends over £3,000 on postage and printing costs. Most people agree that we should spend what little resources we have available on conservation work and education.
We are aware that not all of our members, for various reasons, wish to receive a copy of the lepidoptera report. Others may wish to have electronic copies instead. Please will you help and express your preference by opting in to receiving a printed copy of the next and future reports by emailing us or writing to the Membership Secretary (details below).
If you change your mind in the future just let us know.
You may have both formats if you choose to.
If you do not want to receive a copy of the next annual report do not respond
27 Maple Road Richmond DL10 4BW
We know Essex Skipper as a rare resident in Yorkshire; a recent newcomer spreading up from neighbouring southern VCs and now locally present near Doncaster (VC63) and occasionally showing up at Spurn (VC61). Figure 1a shows the locations of Essex Skipper sightings from 2010-2014 and Figure 1b a map of Yorkshire.
Figure 1a: Essex Skipper Sightings 2010 to 2014
Figure 1b: Yorkshire and neighbouring VCs with relation to Yorkshire
Recently, verified sightings of Essex Skipper (in 25 km squares so far) indicate its surprise presence in the south of VC66 round the Middlesbrough area. There are a number of ways that Essex Skipper could be showing up in this area ranging from accidental (transported in hay bale etc) or deliberate introduction, to unnoticed natural spread northwards from known colonies in the south of Yorkshire. If natural spread is the case then where are the intervening Essex Skippers in Yorkshire?
The lack of any sightings could be because Essex Skipper and Small Skipper (which is a widespread resident species) are very hard to tell apart. If you don’t expect to see Essex Skipper then you won’t double-check any Small Skipper you see (I’m guilty of this myself). How do we tell Essex Skipper and Small Skipper apart given they look very similar, behave similarly, fly in the same habitats and have over-lapping flight periods?
Here’s how. Slowly creep up on the blighter on your hands and knees until you have a good view of the head and take a good look at the underside of the antennae – if the underside of the tip is glossy ink black then it’s an Essex Skipper (Figure 2a) and if the underside of the tip is brown/dull orange then it’s a Small Skipper (Figure 2b). Binoculars help. Digital camera capable of close up shots needed to assist identification afterwards and for verification purposes.
The flight season isn’t over yet. If you happen to be in an area where there are Small Skippers (Figure 3, bottom of the page), take a long close second-look at the undersides of the antennae. Take a photo (this is important). Send your sighting details and photos to me (email@example.com) and we can see if Essex Skipper has expanded northwards across VC61 and into VC62, VC64 when we weren’t looking. Also if you carefully check an area and find no Essex Skippers I’d like to know that as well (Evidence of absence is also information).
Thanks. David RR Smith (Yorkshire County Butterfly Recorder)
Figure 2. ‘Smessex Skippers’ – Telling Essex and Small Skippers apart.
Figure 2a (above) Essex Skipper
Figure 2b (above)Small Skipper
Figure 3 Small Skipper sightings 2010-14.
The branch needs the help of some willing volunteers - could you help with any of the following?
Wider Countryside Butterfly Survey
You may have heard of the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme which has been running since the 1970s, with dedicated volunteers visiting their favourite wildlife sites to count the butterflies they see along the same transect route. This scheme is very good at monitoring habitat specialist butterflies, particularly in lowland semi-natural habitats.The Wider Countryside Butterfly Survey also asks volunteers to count butterflies along a fixed transect route but aims to monitor changes in the abundance of our more common and widespread butterflies across the countryside. The survey is a partnership between Butterfly Conservation, the British Trust for Ornithology and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.
How it works:
To get an accurate picture of how butterfly abundance changes from year to year the scheme is based on randomly selected locations across the countryside. Through consulting widely in 2005/6 and successful pilot years in 2007/8, the method we have come up with is based on the BTO’s Breeding Bird Survey (the ‘BBS’), counting along two parallel 1-km long transects subdivided into 10 sections, located within randomly selected 1-km squares. The differences being that butterflies are counted in a more restricted area than for birds and at different times of the day. Only 2-4 visits are required compared to 26 on UK BMS transects.
The methodology and development of transect monitoring for butterflies has been reviewed in detail elsewhere (Pollard and Yates, 1993). In brief, a fixed-route walk (transect) is established at a site and butterflies are recorded along the route on a regular (weekly) basis under reasonable weather conditions for a number of years. Transect routes are chosen to sample evenly the habitat types and management activity on sites. Care is taken in choosing a transect route as it must then remain fixed to enable butterfly sightings to be compared from year to year. Transects are typically about 2-4km long, taking between 45 minutes and two hours to walk, and are divided into sections corresponding to different habitat or management units.
Butterflies are recorded in a fixed width band (typically 5m wide) along the transect each week from the beginning of April until the end of September yielding, ideally, 26 counts per year. Transect walks are undertaken between 10.45am and 3.45pm and only when weather conditions are suitable for butterfly activity: dry conditions, wind speed less than Beaufort scale 5, and temperature 13°C or greater if there is at least 60% sunshine, or more than 17°C if overcast. Due to the vagaries of the British and Irish weather, it is rare in practice to achieve a full set of 26 weekly counts. However, a small number of missing values can be estimated using other counts during the season.
Single species (as opposed to normal 'all species') transects have been increasingly established in recent years. Whilst such transects must follow the standard methodology and must record populations at least once a week throughout the flight period, the focus on a single (or small number of) species reduces both the time required to walk each transect and, more significantly, the number of weekly counts. With many demands on the time of site management staff and volunteer recorders, this reduced method has enabled population monitoring of particular threatened butterflies to be undertaken when otherwise it would not have been possible. By regularly recording a fixed route in standardised conditions, the number of butterflies seen on a transect can be compared from year to year.
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