National Trust – Roseland and Veryan Bay – Butterflies

THE NATIONAL TRUST – ROSELAND AND VERYAN BAY

Butterflies – an unlikely topic for winter months, but as indicators of healthy habitats and biodiversity these beautiful insects symbolise survival and the often precarious state of our natural world.

Butterfly enthusiasts will tell you all kinds of fascinating snippets about their favourite species. When alarmed the Peacock flashes its eye spots and makes a hissing sound by rubbing its wings together. The Peacock was top of UK’s Big Butterfly Count in 2014 – but down by 50% in 2015 – perhaps weather related? The Small Copper, often seen on Treluggan Cliffs (we spotted twice as many in 2015 as in the previous year), is strangely described as quarrelsome and restless by the experts.

The springtime Holly Blue lays her eggs beneath the flower buds of Holly but the summer brood female prefers to lay eggs amongst Ivy buds. Parasitic wasps associated with this species often kill large numbers of its caterpillars. Despite this, the Big Butterfly Count 2015 showed an amazing 151% increase in the number of Holly Blue recorded over the previous year.

Numbers of Red Admiral are still in the top ten of the national and local counts. This beautiful butterfly, a migrant from North Africa and Southern Europe, often feeds on rotting fruit in autumn. The chrysalis rests in a tent made of nettle leaves.

The Gatekeeper, number one in our Nare Head surveys and the Big Butterfly Count 2015, enjoys hedgerows broken by sunny gateways. The Meadow Brown, probably UK’s most common and widespread butterfly, was top of Treluggan’s 2015 count; the Gatekeeper came second. Both butterflies lay their eggs in grasses, as does the Speckled Wood: pairs are often spotted in the dappled light of corridors in scrub. All three browns are regularly recorded by volunteers at Nare and Treluggan – we can rely on them to give substance to our surveys.

Flight behaviour sometimes helps butterfly identification. Apparently the Gatekeeper dances, the Ringlet flops, a Comma glides and a Painted Lady has a strong, purposeful flight. Colour helps too: the Green Hairstreak, seen on the gorse at Nare, is our only green butterfly. The Brimstone, the old word for sulphur, has pale yellow wings, lighter than those of the Clouded Yellow, a migrant often arriving from Southern Europe in large numbers. And which butterfly has white wings tipped with orange? The Orange Tip of course!

Our follow-up feature in March will look at the state of British butterflies and how our surveys relate to the role of monitoring in research. Recent findings tell us more about how habitat management and climate change impact on the health of butterfly populations.

Please contact me if you’d like to become an NT butterfly survey volunteer: christownsend624@googlemail.com

Training is provided and you’ll enjoy fantastic views as you walk the cliffs of Nare or Treluggan, maybe both!

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