This year has been an amazing year for butterflies. I have to confess to being a butterfly enthusiast, bordering on a butterfly nerd. Growing up, as I did, in the South East of England, I was spoilt during my formative years. Trips to Box Hill in Surrey gave us the most diverse range of butterflies seen almost anywhere in the UK. Moving to the midlands, the variety seemed rather limited.
When we got the opportunity to buy our field and create Betty’s Wood, butterflies were very much on our mind. We were careful to plant butterfly-friendly plants (for nectar but also for the caterpillars), put in bare patches of earth on which butterflies could bask, and try and provide a new site for local butterflies seeking to expand their range.
What we did not expect was for everything to change so quickly. Almost before any significant plants had emerged on our site, we got brown argus butterflies moving in. Common blues and brown argus are now present in profusion in our new meadow. On most warm evenings, there are clouds of butterflies over the meadow: common blue, brown argus, small copper, meadow brown, gatekeeper, ringlet, small white, large white, green-veined white, brimstone, small tortoiseshell, peacock, red admiral, comma, painted lady and speckled wood are seen in the woods and meadow, and the delightful little purple hairstreak stick tantalisingly to the treetops. Holly blues emerge two or three times a year. Large, small and Essex skippers are seen, well, skipping across the meadow. Day-flying burnet and cinnabar moths are also in evidence.
Although we have not yet seen dingy skipper on our meadow, we are hopeful of attracting it, and other species to our site. If we can make so much progress in a single year, we are pretty confident that in years to come, as trees mature, we will attract other species and add to those recorded on site.
Butterflies are pretty, nobody really doubts that. But they are also an indicator of the diversity and health of the ecosystem. Even in this parched year, the diversity of butterflies gives us a clue that we are on the right track with our woods. More habitats means more species of butterfly, but this means we have more species of plants, and more insects of other types too. On the basis of those plants and insects come other species too: birds, bats, and the predators that feed on them.
Pretty butterflies to see and a healthy and diverse ecosystem. If we have managed to go some way to creating that at Alvecote Wood, we will be pleased.