Good news for Cornwall’s butterflies

Gatekeeper

Roger Hooper is a member of Butterfly Conservation's Cornwall Branch - here he is talking about the butterflies you can see across the county and how some species are actually doing really well...

Everyone loves butterflies. They only fly in nice weather, so they have a head start, as we feel much happier in the sunshine and their appearance adds that little bit extra.

Sadly though, many once common species are in serious decline nationally and over 70% of all Britain’s butterflies decreased in number between 1976 and 2014.

Here in Cornwall though, recent results from surveys undertaken by the many expert butterfly enthusiasts in the county show that although the numbers have been affected over the years in the same way as the country as a whole, in recent years the butterfly populations here have been holding steady and some species are increasing. Last year a butterfly that showed a large increase in numbers was the Gatekeeper, a small rusty-coloured species of grassland and hedgerows. Like many other butterflies, this one gets its name as a result of its familiarity to man. Our ancestors led a pastoral life and butterflies would have been far more numerous than the present day. The Gatekeeper must have been very familiar to them and clearly they saw them in the hedgerows as they opened field gates.

Peacock by Matt BerryAlthough butterflies start to appear in numbers in spring you may see one or two on sunny days while we are still in winter. Peacocks, the multi-coloured large species with the ‘eyes’ in the wings, spend the winter hibernating as an adult and so venture  forth on sunny days as the finished article, its caterpillar and chrysalis stages all completed last year. Similarly the Small Tortoiseshell appears very early, lulling us into feeling the days can only get warmer from now on.

Cornwall has a very active and dedicated group, Cornwall Butterfly Conservation, who strive to ensure that no more of the species living in the county are lost. Some hang by a thread, like the tiny Grizzled Skipper, now restricted to just one site. The once nationally common Pearl-Bordered Fritillary, which is plummeting in numbers, is the focus of winter work parties to safeguard the habitat it needs. Likewise the Marsh Fritillary and both species have benefitted from the generous help given to volunteers by owners of the land where they are found.

Cornwall Butterfly Conservation has a very special guest at its Annual General Meeting on March 12th at  the St.Erme Community Centre in Castle Field, Trispen, near Truro. Professor Jeremy Thomas is one of the leading experts on butterflies in the country and will be the highlight of a day-long event. Entry on the day is £7 (or half price for students), which includes lunch and the day starts from 10.00a.m. If you are interested in learning more about butterflies and moths in Cornwall you will really enjoy the day.

More and more people are recognising that butterflies are missing from their lives and are joining Butterfly Conservation, one of the fastest growing wildlife charities in the country. Small Pearl-bordered FritillaryThese lovely insects, along with hundreds of other species, were so much more numerous just a few decades ago. Drivers of a ‘certain age’ will remember cleaning hundreds of splattered insects from the front of a car during the summer months, especially after a night-time drive. It just doesn’t happen now and this is a serious problem, as many of these creatures are pollinators of crops and flowers and so their absence can have real consequences for human food production, which is, ironically, one of the major causes of their decline in the first place. 

Roger Hooper  - Cornwall BC