Butterfly white holes

27 May 2013

I got away from the garden for a while today, and spent some time trying to fill some local butterfly white holes. “White hole” is our terminology in the Dorset Branch of Butterfly Conservation for places where no butterfly sighting has been received by us in the current cycle of recording. Recording is done nationally in five-year cycles, at the end of which time all the data is collected together and analysed, so it is possible to see how the various species are doing in different parts of the country. 2013 is year four in the current cycle, so the pressure is on to do more recording – or persuade other people to record more for us. I’ll give you the map of white holes, so you can see what I’m talking about: the dots on the map show where at least one butterfly species has been recorded in 2010, 2011 or 2012, so the white holes are where there is no dot.

Map of butterfly "white holes" 2010-2012

Map of butterfly “white holes” 2010-2012

It might seem odd in a way that a lot of the white holes are in rural parts of the county, where you would think there are lots of butterflies, but there are two reasons for this. One is that there are less people to do the recording in the less populated areas, and the other, sadly, is that too much of our countryside is now not wildlife friendly. One of the sights we saw a lot of today were fields full of the bright yellow rape, for example. This attracts bees (though I’m told the honey is rather lacking in flavour) but not many nectaring butterflies; I guess some of the White family of butterflies might use it to lay eggs, but the crop may not remain standing long enough for the eggs to turn into caterpillars, and for the caterpillars to become chrysalises and then adult butterflies. There is also an associated problem of the fields being sprayed with pesticides and herbicides so the crop is pure and not attacked by pests: understandable from the point of view of the farmer (at least short-term) but no good for producing the diversity of plants which would feed a range of insects, including butterflies. Visually, however, it has to be admitted that  fields of rape can be very eye-catching, especially when there’s some nice clouds, as below.

Field of bright yellow rape

Field of bright yellow rape

Our trip had some success: three white holes “filled” with a combination of Peacocks and Small Whites. I was hoping for the odd Orange Tip, but no luck.

If you are in Dorset, please do make a note of any butterflies you see and report them to the Dorset Branch of Butterfly Conservation website – there is a nifty map-based tool to help you pin-point where you saw them. Please don’t look at the white hole map and think it is only in the white holes that sightings are needed: the hole may be “filled” because I have recorded a Peacock there, but if you see a Red Admiral at the same place, we need to know about that, too. Other areas of the UK will also have branches of Butterfly Conservation which need records.

Recording  butterflies helps us to help them, so please do what you can.

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