What’s that fluttering by?

editorial image

BUTTERFLY and moth enthusiasts are gearing up for this year’s survey of the winged creatures.

The local branch of Butterfly Conservation Scotland hope Borderers will join the search and checks on how the region’s lepidoptera are faring.

Outdoor events aimed at helping beginners improve their identification skills start at the end of next month.

The charity’s Borders organiser Barry Prater is also hoping to keep tabs on a few of the rarer species.

“It’s important to know where the rarer butterflies and moths are so that if changes in land use are proposed we can say ‘maybe think again because these important species are there’. They’re characteristic of our part of the world. They’re something we need to keep as part of our wildlife heritage.”

The “top priority” butterfly species for the local branch to find this year is the large heath, recorded in only one site in the Borders last year, at Spurlens Rig, where developers hope to install a wind farm.

The UK Biodiversity Action Plan priority species is on the wing during July and is only found in damper, upland areas with plenty of cotton-grass.

Purple hairstreaks are another butterfly that enthusiasts are keen to find.

“There is a record from Bowhill in 1951 but nothing since,” said Mr Prater. “Recent searches have shown that this butterfly appears to be quite well distributed across south west Scotland. Suitable habitat exists (oak woodland and even isolated oak trees) so this fluttering, silvery rarity has no excuse not to be around here.”

The comma, which UK Butterflies describes as looking like a tatty smaller Tortoiseshell, is also in the sights of the hobbyists.

“The comma arrived here within the past five to seven years. It’s now fairly widespread but not recorded everywhere,” said Mr Prater. “It would be good to know it’s really consolidated its presence here after an absence of many years. People can see it in their gardens – it comes on to buddleia and other nectar sources found in public places and gardens.”

Last year’s survey uncovered new sites for some scarcer species and that, he suggests, means there could be more places to find the green hairstreak, small blue, small pearl-bordered fritillary and Scotch argus which Mr Prater described as “important targets”.

The green hairstreak is a “thinly scattered” butterfly whose caterpillars feed on bilberry, broom and blaeberry plants.

He said the small blue is one of the scarcer species locally, with a colony on the Berwickshire coast but one near Hawick disappeared after its food – kidney vetch – was crowded out.

“We’re hoping to do a search along that railway line south of Hawick and perhaps find it, “ said Mr Prater.

Local volunteers with the conservation charity found the small pearl-bordered fritillary in several new sites last year.

“It’s often associated with damp sheltered meadows, often the type of area land owners may want to drain, so it’s vulnerable,” said Mr Prater

The Scotch argus favours rank grassland, such as along ditches or where grass is not grazed as in forestry and is found in the Tweed Valley.

This summer marks the last year of the Butterfly Conservation Scotland’s three year national survey into the cinnabar moth, which aims to see what impact climate change is having on the moth and to stimulate interest among the general public.

“It gets people interested in moths and shows them that they aren’t just those dull brown things flying around their lights at night, ” said Mr Prater

For more information see www.eastscotland-butterflies.org.uk or contact Mr Prater on barry@prater.myzen.co.uk.