big butterfly count

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big butterfly count 2010 results: habitats

Different habitats provide different resources for butterflies and moths. Some species are restricted to particular habitats such as woodland, heathland or flower-rich grassland, but many common species are more adaptable. They will make use of gardens, even in very built-up areas, to find nectar for food and some butterflies and moths can even breed in gardens.

Best for Butterflies

42% of all the butterflies and day-flying moths counted during big butterfly count 2010 were from gardens, but this varied between countries. More butterflies were recorded in gardens than in any other habitat in England and Wales (accounting for 43% and 34% of the total in each country respectively). However this was not so in Northern Ireland or Scotland, where many more butterflies were counted in fields and other rural habitats.

Taken together, gardens, fields and other rural habitats accounted for 87% of all the butterflies and moths spotted in big butterfly count 2010, with the other habitat types (woods, parks, school grounds and other urban habitats) making only small contributions to the total.

Gardens may have been where most counts were carried out and, therefore, where most butterflies were seen, but they were not the best habitats for butterflies. Fewer individuals were seen on average in gardens than in all other habitat types. For example, on average, 2.5 individuals of each species were counted in garden habitats compared to over 5 individuals of each species in fields or other rural habitats and over 4 in woodlands.

What does this rather complex picture mean? Perhaps not surprisingly, habitats in the countryside had a higher total abundance of butterflies and moths, because they are the main breeding areas for most species. However, gardens also attracted large numbers of these beautiful creatures and, importantly, these are the places where we are most likely to encounter them. Gardens provide important fuelling stops for butterflies that enable them to produce more eggs as well as enabling some species to survive better through the winter.

Garden butterflies and moths

For certain species, gardens were particularly significant. 81% of Humming-bird Hawk-moth and 70% of Small Tortoiseshell sightings were from gardens. Nectar from garden flowers is important for these nomadic insects, which tend to use our gardens as motorway service stations to refuel before continuing their journeys.

Holly Blues were also very much at home in our gardens, with 71% of sightings from this habitat. The plants that their caterpillars need, mainly holly and ivy, are common in gardens and, therefore, this butterfly is often able to breed in our gardens, rather than just visiting for nectar. 68% of Large White and 65% of Small White records were from gardens too, perhaps not such good news for those growing cabbages!

The grassland is greener

In contrast, many of the grassland butterflies were much less abundant in gardens. Only 21% of Meadow Browns were counted in gardens, compared to 37% in fields and 26% from other rural habitats. It was a similar picture for the Common Blue. Most of individuals were counted in fields (41%) and other rural habitats (26%).

Thank You

Wherever you did your big butterfly count in 2010, in garden, park, field, wood, school playing field or nature reserve, many thanks for taking part. Please join in big butterfly count 2011 to help us take the pulse of nature once again.

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