All of a Flutter About Our Beautiful Butterflies!

 

This is a great time of year to get out and about to enjoy the natural world and see up close, the stunning native wildlife we have here in Ireland.

When you take the time to look and listen, the reward in the form of fascinating sights and interactions between our plants and animals, is fascinating!

One of those delights currently is observing our gorgeous native Butterflies.

What could be more relaxing than sitting in your outdoor space or park and watching butterflies fluttering by, alighting to take a drink of sugary nectar or basking in the sun, soaking up that vital heat they need for their daily activities.

 

Ringlet Butterfly at Wildacres

 

There are approximately 440 species of Butterfly across Europe, though in Ireland we have the lowest number of species of all European countries.

We currently have 31 year-round resident and 3 common species that migrate to Ireland. Of these there are 15 species that are the most often seen.

Whilst we have a low number of species, our native species are stunning and can be spotted now on the wing and are an absolute delight to watch.

 

Comma Butterfly at Wildacres

 

Our butterflies can be grouped according to their relatedness IE:

These are Vanessids and FritillariesHairstreaksCoppers, and Skippers.

They can also be grouped according to their predominant colour. These colours are.

Browns, Blue, White and Yellow Butterflies.

 

Butterflies of Ireland poster courtesy of the National Biodiversity Data Centre.

 

Red Admiral Butterfly at Wildacres

 

Butterflies are an excellent indicator species showing the health of their surrounding environment, due to their sensitivity to surrounding conditions and their short lifecycle.

 

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Large White Butterfly on Spear Thistle at Wildacres

 

First off, the bad news.

They currently need all the help they can get, like all our precious native wildlife.

The Irish Butterfly Monitoring scheme in operation since 2008 tracks the population trends of our 15 most common butterfly species and very worryingly shows a 35% decline in their population.

Currently the other 19 species of native butterfly are not monitored so we have no idea as to how they are faring. Though judging by current trends in relation to habitat loss, climate change, pollution, pesticide usage, the story is probably another negative one.

 

The multi-species index derived from the amalgamation of the population trends of 15 common species of butterflies from 2008 to 2021. (Courtesy of The National Biodiversity Data Centre)

 

Though there is positive news, it’s certainly not all doom and gloom!

At Wildacres we have noticed, as we have restored habitats, a real visible increase in some of our butterfly species.

Whilst others, normally more infrequently encountered are turning up on a more regular basis.

 

Painted Lady Butterfly on Ornamental Dahlia at Wildacres

 

All very encouraging and definite proof, if we all act and do our bit we can and will, turn this huge decline in our native Biodiversity around.

You can make a real difference and help these and our other beautiful precious native wildlife species, by taking some simple steps.

So, what can you do to help and attract these beautiful creatures into your outdoor space?

To answer that we need ask ourselves another broader question.

 

Meadow Brown Butterfly at Wildacres

 

What do Butterflies (and all wildlife species) need to survive and more importantly flourish?

  • They need food.  As adults butterflies need sugar rich nectar to regularly drink to fuel their quest to find a mate and go on to reproduce. Then their young in the form of caterpillars, need very specific larval food plants to propel their growth towards their final metamorphosis into their adult form.

 

  • They need shelter. Butterflies need grasses, wildflowers, shrubs and trees to shelter in. They will use these different habitats to shelter from inclement weather, hide away from predators, to breed and even with some species hibernate in amongst.

 

  • Biodiversity Friendly Management. They need outdoor spaces managed in a way that provides them with the above necessities and without the use of noxious poisonous pesticides. In the absence of widespread suitable wild habitats how we manage our immediate outdoor spaces, becomes even more vitally important for wildlife, and in this case Butterflies.

 

  • They need water. Essential to all our native wildlife, whilst obviously Butterflies do not have an aquatic stage in their life cycle, nonetheless a nearby water source ideally in the form of a pond for example will provide an environment for aquatic and moisture loving flowering plants they will feed on, such as Cuckoo flower, Purple loosestrife, Willow and much more.

 

Butterflies can’t land on open water so they will drink from wet muddy banks and puddles.

Here they also get valuable minerals and salts from the slightly muddy water. Most butterflies feed on nectar, but they also need water and minerals to stay hydrated and healthy.

 

Green Veined White Butterfly on Scabious flower at Wildacres

 

If you check out our previous Blog on

“Creating Your Own Mini Nature Reserve” you can see in detail as to how you can create the habitat to attract these beautiful creatures into your outdoor space.

Specifically for Butterflies, it is important to make sure that there are plenty of wildflowers to provide nectar and areas of shelter for them to hide away in during bad weather and for hibernation.

Also, vitally to encourage them to breed, they will need specific larval foodplants that they will lay eggs on, and their caterpillars will feed on.

See below a comprehensive list of the species most commonly seen and there larval foodplants.

Brimstone – Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica) and Alder Buckthorn (Frangula alnus)

Clouded Yellow – Clovers (Trifolium spp.)

Comma – Nettle (Urtica dioica)

Common Blue – Bird’s-foot-trefoil (Lotus corniculatus)

Green-veined White – Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolate), Cuckooflower (Cardamine pratensis), Water- cress (Rorippa-nasturtium aquatica) and other members of the Brassicaceae family

Holly Blue – Holly (Ilex aquifolium) and Ivy (Hedera helix)

Large White – Brassicaceae family

Meadow Brown – Grasses: Fescues (Festuca spp.), Meadow-grasses (Poa spp.) and Bents (Agrostis)

Orange-tip – Cuckooflower (Cardamine pratensis) and Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolate)

 

Wildflower Meadow full of Cardamine pratensis (Cuckoo Flower) larval food plant of the Orange Tip Butterfly at Wildacres

 

Painted Lady* – Thistles (Cirsium spp. and Carduus spp.)

Peacock – Nettle (Urtica dioica)

Red Admiral* – Nettle (Urtica dioica)

Ringlet – Grasses: Cock’s-foot (Dactylis glomerata), False Brome (Brachypodium sylvaticum), Tufted Hair-grass (Deschampsia cespitosa) and Common Couch (Elymus repens)

Silver-washed Fritillary – Common Dog-violet (Viola riviniana)

Small Copper – Common Sorrel (Rumex acetosa) and Sheep’s Sorrel (R. acetosella)

Small Heath – Fine grasses, especially fescues (Festuca spp.), Meadow-grasses (Poa spp.)

 

Small Copper Butterfly at Wildacres

 

 

Small Tortoiseshell – Nettle (Urtica dioica)

Small White – Brassicaceae family and nasturtiums (Tropaeolum)

Speckled Wood – Feed a on a variety of grasses but most commonly on:  False Brome (Brachypodium sylvaticum), Cock’s-foot (Dactylis glomerata) and Yorkshire Fog (Holcus lanatus)

Wood White – Meadow – Vetchling (Lathyrus pratensis), Bitter-vetch (Lathyrus linifolius), Tufted Vetch (Vicia cracca) and Common Bird’s-foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus)

(The above list courtesy of The National Biodiversity Data Centre)

 

Interestingly Irelands only protected insect is the Marsh Fritillary Butterfly (see above in the National Biodiversity Data Centre Native Butterfly chart) which we have yet to record at Wildacres, though we live in hope.

To encourage its arrival and local colonisation we have grown from seed and planted into our 4 acre wildflower meadow, its specific larval foodplant, Devils Bit Scabious.

This is a beautiful native wildflower of the scabious family which this rare butterfly will only lay its eggs on, and its caterpillars rely solely on for food.

It is early days yet but the plants, which are perennial, are growing well and are about to flower this year for the first time.

We plan to collect seed and grow many more of these wildflowers to plant out in the coming seasons

 

Speckled_Wood_Butterfly_Wildacres

Speckled Wood Butterfly at Wildacres

 

So why not open a whole new world of wonder and enjoyment by creating a welcoming habitat for our native butterflies.

Not to mention the overwhelming feeling of satisfaction to be had knowing you are acting to save our precious biodiversity, by helping these bejewelled beauties survive and even flourish.

 

A Holly Blue Butterfly on a Daisy at Wildacres

 

Check out our “What’s On” page to see upcoming events dates for an inspiring and enjoyable visit to Wildacres. Our Creating A Wildlife Reserve (of any size!) Workshop on 16th September is the ideal event to learn about creating habitats for our native species.

Why not book a into fascinating workshop or private tour for further ideas and examples, as to how you can help and encourage into your outdoor space, our stunning native wildlife.

Every action to help Biodiversity, no matter how small, makes a real difference!

 

Meadow Brown Butterfly at Wildacres

 

We would love to hear and see how you get on with creating your own wildlife habitats and hopefully see you at Wildacres soon for one of our upcoming events.

Brian & Gilly.

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‘Happy’ Frog at Wildacres