July is generally the peak time for butterflies in terms of diversity and quantities…the warm weather and abundance of wildflowers making it the optimum time to spot them.
Sadly approximately 75% of British butterflies are in decline due to changes in their habitats. A worrying trend as the government and experts consider butterflies and moths to be a key indicator species of biodiversity. At the CRT, however we are happy to report that our butterflies are thriving.
At Lark Rise, near Cambridge, the many new wildflower meadows we have created are busy with butterflies, as we experience a rare good summer! The warmth and sunshine are vital for the adults to get their bodies up to flying temperature, and the vast amounts of nectar in the wildlflowers in and around the meadows keep them supplied with the energy they need to fly around looking for mates and laying eggs.
It is always a difficult decision to mow the meadows when they are in full flower, but it has to be done – the crop of hay is needed for winter animal feed, and if we don’t mow them at all then in a few years the grass would become too rank for the flowering plants and we would lose all the interest. What’s more, the female butterflies of many species actually prefer to lay their eggs in quite short vegetation as this tends to warm up more in the sun, which is good for the caterpillars, and the shorter areas have more new growth which is what the caterpillars will be feeding on in the spring. To get around this dilemma, we cut different meadows at different times, so there is always some long areas with flowers and some short grass for egg laying; a month or so after being mown, the meadows come back into flower anyway. There are also lots of other important nectar plants at this time of year, such as brambles and privet in the hedgerows.
This is a good time of year for most of the butterfly species on the farm, such as Ringlet, Meadow Brown, Small Tortoiseshell, Skippers and Whites. Over the next few weeks they will be added to by the second emergence of Common Blues, and the summer emergence of Peacocks and Brimstones among others. One species we are particularly pleased about is the Marbled White which has been spreading it’s natural range recently and colonised Lark Rise about 3 years ago, and is now doing very well with increasing numbers seen in all the meadows. For many years, a small population of introduced Marbled Whites occupied the one area where they had been released, but failed to spread. A more adventurous strain of the same species has now appeared on the scene (and are seen on road verges and any areas of long grass with a reasonable number of flowers) and seem to have overrun the introduced population. It’s a beautiful, graceful flyer that drifts effortlessly over the top of meadows throughout July.
If you would like to see the butterflies at Lark Rise, then join us on a Butterfly Safari on the 3rd August 2014 at 2pm, where you can expect to see between 15 to 20 different species ranging from gatekeepers to peacocks. The walk will start from Warners Corner, which is on Wimpole Road in Barton between house numbers 47-49 and 55. Please call the office on 01223 262999 to book your FREE space!