The Big Butterfly Count is a nationwide survey aimed at helping to assess the health of our environment. It was launched in 2010 and 10,000 people took part, counting 210,000 butterflies and day-flying moths across the nation.
Butterflies react quickly to changes in their environment which makes them excellent biodiversity indicators. Marked declines in butterfly numbers are an early warning for other wildlife losses, making a count of their numbers important. This year’s big butterfly count runs until the 31st July 2011.
In preparation for this year’s event, Dan Danahar, from Dorothy Stringer High School, produced an identification poster using butterflies held in the collections of the Booth Museum. The collections at the Booth include examples of almost all known British Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) and some date back more than 150 years. Whilst they were once collected for the pleasure of Victorians, they are now used by scientists for research and identification, as well as by artists and schools.
The poster has been distributed to local schools, and is being given away with school loans at the Booth, while stocks last. The poster shows a selection of common and rare butterflies recently recorded in Brighton and Hove, and each picture shows the markings on both the upper and lower surfaces of the wings.
This year’s Big Butterfly Count kicked off at the Liz Williams Butterfly Haven in the grounds of Dorothy Stringer High School, where children from the Dorothy Stringer Creche, Balfour Infants School and Dorothy Stringer Secondary School, plus students from Downsview special needs college, came to see wildflowers and butterflies. Dan Danahar has described the day.
The clouded yellow proved such a hit as it is a migrant to the United Kingdom. Native to North Africa and Southern Europe, it does occasionally stay over winter, but the larval forms are easily killed by damp and frost, both of which are common features of the British winter. These butterflies breed continuously, instead of seasonally, and can have up to 3 broods of young each year, in the United Kingdom.
The caterpillars favour clover and lucerne plants, as well as birds-foot trefoil. The adults feed on nectar from a variety of flowers including dandelions, thistles and marjoram. Although most commonly found near the coast of Britain, many do fly inland, and they are found across the United Kingdom in the warmer months, reaching as far as Scotland and Ireland in good years. On rare occasions large numbers of clouded yellow’s can occur and in 1947 over 36,000 were seen.
Lee Ismail, Curator of Natural Sciences