It may be less than 3 weeks ago, but it seems a long time since the Scarlet Tigers graced Roman Road. And what a summer we are enjoying, if ‘enjoying’ is the right word! Every summer we Brits long for warm, sunny days stretching through the school holidays. In reality, like the grass and flowers, we wilt in a prolonged spell of hot, dry weather. We have had very little rain in the West Midlands and the grass has turned brown.
Compare also the photo of a Small Tortoiseshell butterfly enjoying the nectar from a Corn Marigold with the dried up flower visited by the Skipper below.
Having painted quite a bleak picture of the English countryside – here is the good news! Sightings and photographs posted on the West Midlands Butterfly Conservation branch Facebook page, indicate that 2018 is going to be the best summer for our butterflies and moths for some considerable time. Over the past few years, Butterfly Conservation has run an appeal to the general public to take part in the Big Butterfly Count. This involves taking 15 minutes from your day to find somewhere sunny where you might expect to see butterflies, and count what you see – numbers and species of butterflies and day-flying moths. The results can then be entered on line via Butterfly Conservation’s website or via an App (free to download from BC website). The response from the public has been enthusiastic with over 35,000 entries since this year’s campaign was launched last Friday by Sir David Attenborough (who also demonstrated how to handle interviewers who tried to change the subject, thus maintaining the focus of the item firmly on butterflies). It lasts for 3 weeks, coinciding with the start of the school holidays. It’s proving enormously successful, giving BC a wider overview of how our butterflies are faring.
The drought also gives us an unusual opportunity to assess which plants seem to cope well with the extraordinary conditions and which are suffering. Along Roman Road, the Alkanet (on which the Scarlet Tiger lays its eggs), seems to be coping well. In the spring, when the caterpillars are feeding in plain view, Roman Road is a sea of green with pretty blue flowers. Then it dies back, the leaves die and the sight is transformed to a brown, untidy mess, with just a few green shoots. Now the new growth is well underway – good news for the next generation of caterpillars – and generally the plant doesn’t seem to be too badly affected by the drought.
Additionally, wild flowers such as Knapweed, Betony, Yarrow, Bird’s Foot Trefoil and Ragwort, are coping much better with the hot sunshine than many other flowers.
Another surprise amongst the dry vegetation was this patch of Devil’s Bit Scabious. This was planted near the start of the project and I feared it had been lost when the work was carried out to repair the wall.
Apologies for the photo, but it’s great to see it surviving.
Being British and trying to reverse the terrible declines in our Lepidoptera numbers, we have to find something to worry about. Numbers of most species this year have been amazing but with the continued dry weather, the concern is for the caterpillars – will they have enough food to survive? Time will tell and no doubt, the drought will end soon enough.
In the meantime, here are a few photos of butterflies along the bridle path, revelling in the sunshine. Perhaps they are sending us a message, enjoy it while it lasts!