The Butterfly effect

Brown Argus Butterfly. Kingston

Brown Argus Butterfly. Kingston

The Guardian today reports that 2013, with its wonderfully warm summer, was an excellent year of recovery for farmland butterflies after their worst year on record in the wet weather of 2012. In that year, 52 out of the 56 species monitored saw their numbers decline. However, figures just collated and released by a coalition of conservation agencies indicate that numbers of the majority of the affected butterflies appear to have doubled in 2013.

Wet and windy summers, like that of 2012, have an adverse effect on the breeding cycle of butterflies, while hot summers, like the summer of 2013, are ideal for breeding, provided that there is no drought to kill their food sources. They are cold blooded and the shunshine warms them up, gives them energy and provides more sources of nectar for feeding.

In 2012 numbers of the Common Blue butterfly, which we often see on the Downs above Bridge plummeted by 60%, but in 2013 numbers increased five fold. Large White and Small White butterflies, often collectively called Cabbage Whites, increased by a factor of two and a factor of five respectively.

The most common butterflies, by abundance, are:
1. Small Tortoiseshell
2. Peacock
3. Small White
4. Large White
5. Common Blue

However, it’s not all good news on the butterfly front. Government figures show that overall butterfly numbers in the wider countryside have fallen by 49% since 1990 and reached their lowest point in 2012. This must surely be regarded as an ecological disaster! Butterflies perform an important role in the pollination of plants and are to some extent an indicator of the health of our countryside. At this rate of decline, things are not looking well.

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