Get out for the count

Brimstone by Matt Berry
Brimstone by Matt Berry

A confetti of red admirals, peacocks and small tortoiseshells spiralling around buddleia bushes on a hot, sultry afternoon is one of the classic sights of British summertime.

And thankfully, this display is not such an unusual spectacle in our region. In comparison to other parts of the UK, we are relatively blessed with butterflies.

Our dramatic coast, ancient meadows, unspoilt heathland and chalk downs are amongst the richest butterfly habitats in the British Isles.

West Dorset, South Somerset and East Devon boast some of our rarest and most spectacular species, from the hyperactive Lulworth skipper, the sapphire flash of the Adonis blue to the chequerboard beauty of the marsh fritillary.

But this summer it is the more widespread and easy to spot species that will be the focus of nature lovers’ attention as the world’s largest butterfly survey — the Big Butterfly Count gets under way across the UK.

15 minutes during a three-week period

Run by Dorset-based wildlife charity Butterfly Conservation, the count encourages the public to spend 15 minutes during a three-week period of high summer, spotting and recording butterflies wherever they are seen — from the back garden, the local park, during a countryside walk or even while supping a pint in a pub beer garden.
The count focuses on 18 common butterflies including exotic migrant the painted lady, widespread common blue and grass-loving gatekeeper. All species are common and resident in our region including the beautiful marbled white which thrives on our coastline.

Butterfly Conservation’s President Sir David Attenborough
Butterfly Conservation’s President Sir David Attenborough

Butterfly Conservation uses the records to determine how our widespread species are faring and how best to protect them in the future. The charity’s President Sir David Attenborough said: “The UK is a nation of amateur naturalists and we have a proud tradition of celebrating and studying our wildlife.

“By taking part in the Big Butterfly Count this summer you can contribute to this heritage and discover the fantastic butterflies and other wildlife that share your garden, parks and countryside.

“Every single person taking part in the Big Butterfly Count can produce a statistic that is of real value as their records help build a picture of how butterflies are faring and how we can best conserve them.”

Marsh fritillary by Tim Melling
Marsh fritillary by Tim Melling

Last year around 45,000 people took part in the count, spotting more than 560,000 butterflies with tens of thousands of records coming from our region.

The peacock was the most commonly seen butterfly followed by the gatekeeper and small white.

Marbled Whites by Steve MacKay
Marbled Whites by Steve MacKay

The big butterfly count runs from 17 July to 9 August

For a free identification sheet and free Count app visit www.bigbutterflycount.org

Common Blue by Andy Seely
Common Blue by Andy Seely
Top five butterfly sites in West Dorset, East Devon and South Somerset

  • Check the long grass anywhere along the coast path between Seatown and West Bay for marbled white, a variety of skippers and the magnificent clouded yellow.
  • From its lofty position on the Blackdown Ridge, Butterfly Conservation’s Mount Fancy Farm reserve boasts stunning views across the South Somerset Levels towards the Quantocks and the Polden Hills. Look for comma, brown hairstreak, wood white and day-flying moths including the chimney sweeper.
  • If the famous cake doesn’t lure you to Dorset Wildlife Trust’s Kingcombe Centre hidden deep within the West Dorset countryside, then the butterflies surely will. Marbled white, meadow brown and ringlet dance in clouds amongst the ancient meadows in numbers rarely experienced elsewhere.
  • Little Breach, perched on the edge of the Blackdown Hills in East Devon, is scrubby grassland reserve owned by Butterfly Conservation that is bursting with butterflies and moths. Look for small copper and silver-washed fritillary.
  • Lankham Bottom boasts a hilarious name and wonderful butterflies. This beautiful West Dorset chalkland reserve near Cattistock is owned by Butterfly Conservation and has thriving populations of Adonis blue, chalk hill blue and brown argus.

Liam Creedon is a nature writer. Read his work on Twitter: @liamcreedon

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