21st October 2018

Man the ramparts for marching butterflies

History fans are being asked to take a closer look at castles this summer in a bid to track the march north of a butterfly success story.

The Marbled White, one of the UK’s most beautiful and striking butterflies, has seen its numbers soar with a 50% increase in the last 40 years.

Over the same period, the butterfly, which historically had its heartland in central southern England, has expanded its range considerably, particularly in south-east England, the Midlands and Yorkshire.

Climate change is thought to be the main cause of the increasing range and abundance of this boldly marked butterfly with warmer temperatures enabling it to colonise areas of long grass that have escaped intensive modern farming methods.

As part of this year’s Big Butterfly Count, Butterfly Conservation and English Heritage are asking people to look out for the Marbled White and other grassland butterflies when they visit the charity’s castles and their surrounding grounds.

English Heritage cares for the most castles across England and the grounds around these sites are typically rich in wildlife including butterflies.

The meadows and grassland surrounding many English Heritage castles provide much needed habitat for other Big Butterfly Count species and offer a fantastic place to take part in the project.

The easily overlooked Gatekeeper has experienced a long run of below-average years and Butterfly Conservation is concerned about the long-term decline of such a widespread and common species.

The Gatekeeper suffered an awful 2016 but recovered slightly last year so its progress this summer will help scientists find out if it has finally turned a corner.

Other common grassland butterflies also had a good year in 2017 including the Meadow Brown, the UK’s most abundant butterfly, which had its greatest numbers for over a decade.

The Ringlet also had one of its best years and continues a long-term trend of increasing abundance and the Common Blue bounced back from a horrendous 2016 to have an average year in 2017.

However another grassland species, the Small Copper, has had a run of bad years with its numbers well below the long-term average in 2017.

The Big Butterfly Count is the world’s largest butterfly survey, which encourages people to spot and record 17 species of common butterflies and two day-flying moths during three weeks of high summer, across the UK.

Results from the Big Butterfly Count will help track the ongoing spread of the Marbled White and could shed more light onto the long-term population fluctuations of this beautiful butterfly.

Butterfly Conservation President, Sir David Attenborough, said: “The spectacle of a summer meadow brought to life by countless Marbled Whites pottering amongst the wild flowers is one of the unexpected treats of the British countryside. This species is not only one of our most beautiful, but it also represents a butterfly success story, adapting to our changing climate to march north while increasing its population.

“The grasslands around our castles are fantastic places to take part in the Big Butterfly Count; they are not only good spots for the Marbled White, but also other Count species such as the Meadow Brown, Common Blue and Gatekeeper.”

Christopher Weddell, Senior Gardens Adviser, English Heritage said: “We are delighted to be getting behind the Big Butterfly Count this year – the landscape around our castles and historic properties can offer a rich habitat for flora and fauna, and some butterflies seen by their historic inhabitants may still be enjoyed by visitors today. Why not come along and see if you can spot them?”

Richard Fox, Butterfly Conservation Associate Director of Recording and Research, said: “Taking part in the Big Butterfly Count is not only good for our understanding and conservation of native butterflies, but it is good for people too – whether that’s taking 15 minutes out of a busy day to enjoy the beauty of butterflies or engaging your children or grandchildren with their natural heritage.”

The Big Butterfly Count is sponsored by B&Q. Helena Feltham, People Director at B&Q, said: “We know B&Q customers love connecting with nature in their gardens, and garden wildlife and greenery is good for all of us, in so many different ways.

“Though gardens in the UK are changing, every outdoor space, no matter its size, can deliver benefits for wildlife.  As part of our ongoing commitment to the nature of gardens, we’ll be encouraging B&Q colleagues and customers alike to get outside, connect with nature and spot as many butterflies as they can during the Big Butterfly Count.”

The Count runs until 12 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.