Glasgow & SW Scotland Butterflies

Glasgow & SW Scotland Branch Website

April 17, 2010

Scottish Cinnabar Moth Survey

Filed under: Conservation and Habitat Management, Moths — Tags: , , , , — Scott Shanks @ 5:29 pm

This survey, which began last year, is continuing through 2010.

Cinnabar moth

Cinnabar moth

Like many of the commoner moths, the Cinnabar has undergone a long-term decline in recent decades (83% over 35 years, based on Rothamsted trap data) and at the UK level is now regarded as a vulnerable species (see ‘The State of Britain’s Larger Moths’ report). It remains widespread across England & Wales, but is much scarcer in Scotland, where it is most often seen in coastal areas. Butterfly Conservation, with support from the Moths Count team, wants to learn more about where it occurs and this is most easily done by spotting the colourful orange and black caterpillars which feed on ragwort leaves, often in such large numbers that they strip the plants completely.

Cinnabar caterpillars feeding on Ragwort

Cinnabar caterpillars feeding on Ragwort

The caterpillars can be seen in July and August; the equally striking adult moth has a long flight season, starting in late May and, because it is easily disturbed during the day and will fly when it’s sunny, may also be recorded during the same period.
Postcards showing both the larva and adult were widely distributed in 2009 and further publicity is planned for this year. People are being asked to send in any sightings using either the postcards or directly by e-mail to Barry Prater , the Moth Recorder for Berwickshire.

There was a pleasing response from BC members and others and the map shows all the 2009 records received; if you know of more from last year do please send them in.

Cinnabar moth distribution map
Cinnabar moth distribution map

One of the objectives of the survey is to highlight the issue of moth conservation in the context of the overall pressure on biodiversity. The reliance of Cinnabar larvae on the widespread but controversial plant ragwort, known to be toxic to horses, may raise conflicts of interest, but a very helpful leaflet ‘Ragwort Friend or Foe’, prepared jointly by Butterfly Conservation, Plantlife and the British Horse Society is available from the BC Scotland page of the main BC website. The leaflet outlines the benefits and problems of ragwort and gives advice on its management.
Anyone who lives here or others who visit the area during the summer can help by taking part in the survey.

March 6, 2010

Fears grow for future of Britain’s rarest butterflies

Filed under: Butterflies, Conservation and Habitat Management — Andrew Masterman @ 11:50 am
Figures for butterfly sightings in 2009 have raised fears that five of Britain’s rarest butterflies face a growing risk of extinction. Their numbers last year either continued to plummet or remained at near rock bottom levels.
Conservationists are particularly concerned about the Duke of Burgundy, which has reached new low points in each of the past three summers and is now at its lowest level since monitoring began. The butterfly, which 50 years ago was a common sight in woodland clearings, now has less than 80 colonies throughout the whole of the UK. Other rare butterflies that remained at very low levels in 2009 include the High Brown Fritillary, with less than 50 colonies, and the Wood White and the Lulworth Skipper, both of which are down to under 100 colonies. Another rare species, the Pearl-bordered Fritillary, had its second worst year in 2009.
Concern for the future of these butterflies follows analysis of data collected by the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme from over 1,000 sites nationwide. The UKBMS is co-ordinated by the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology and the charity Butterfly Conservation.
Experts believe that the extremely wet weather throughout the summers of 2007 and 2008, followed by the above average rainfall of July and August 2009, have accelerated a long-term decline in numbers. Heavy rain makes it hard for butterflies to survive.
And it’s not just the rare butterflies that are having a tough time. According to the new data, collected in the course of last year by the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme, some relatively common species including the Wall Brown, Small Skipper and Green Hairstreak also remained at very low numbers in 2009. The Small Tortoiseshell, which has suffered a serious decline in recent years, made a slight comeback.
The highlight of 2009 was the massive migration of Painted Lady butterflies, which originated in North Africa and arrived in vast swarms in early summer. At one point it was estimated there could have been over a billion Painted Ladies in the UK. However, the UKBMS figures indicate that this migration was not quite on the scale of the last big one in 1996.
The UKBMS statistics show a very modest overall recovery compared with the dire summer of 2008, which was the worst for 25 years. In addition to the abundance of the Painted Lady, some native butterflies also did well in 2009. These included the Green-veined White, Ringlet and Speckled Wood – all of which thrive in lush woodland areas and may have been beneficiaries of the damp but not particularly cold conditions.
Dr Tom Brereton, Head of Monitoring with the charity Butterfly Conservation, said: “We are particularly concerned about the Duke of Burgundy. At the start of the century there were about 200 colonies in the country. This number has now more than halved – and most colonies that remain are small. It is a serious situation.”
Butterflies are important as indicators, alerting us to underlying problems with the environment. If butterfly numbers are falling, inevitably other wildlife is in decline.
The main factors causing the long term decline of many butterfly species include the loss of crucial habitats such as flower rich grassland and the intensification of farming methods. A lack of management is also causing problems in habitats such as woodlands.
Each year the UKBMS collates data collected by hundreds of volunteers nationwide. Dr Marc Botham, a butterfly ecologist at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology who analysed the results said: “The results show the enormous value of long running datasets in identifying environmental problems. We are extremely grateful to the many volunteers who contribute each year. Through their efforts a new milestone was reached in 2009 when the number of sites monitored passed the 1,000 mark for the first time.”
Butterfly Conservation
Manor Yard
East Lulworth
Dorset BH20 5QP
Tel. 01929 400 209 Fax 01929 400 210

Company limited by guarantee, registered in England (2206468). Charity registered in England and Wales (254937) and in Scotland (SCO39268).

Butterfly Conservation is dedicated to saving Butterflies, Moths and their Habitats. If you would like further information please view our website at <>

Over 40 years of saving butterflies, moths and their habitats.

January 21, 2010

Ayrshire Small Blue Reintroduction Project


Pair of Small Blues mating on Kidney Vetch

Pair of Small Blues mating on Kidney Vetch

The Small Blue (Cupido minimus) is the UK’s smallest butterfly (wingspan 16-27 mm). Colonies of this charming little butterfly can be found from the north of Scotland down to the south of England, but became extinct in south west Scotland in the early 1980s. In 2007 it was added to the UK Biological Action Plan (BAP) species list after suffering a significant decline in distribution.



The butterfly’s small size and weak flight mean that the adults are quite sedentary, with few individuals moving further than 50 m from the colony during their short lives. Both sexes are similar with dark slate blue upper wings and silvery blue undersides with a few dark spots. Males often have a dusting of blue scales on the upper-wings, while the females tend to be slightly browner than the males. In Scotland, adults can be on the wing from late May/early June through to July, depending on weather conditions. A small second brood may be seen in August/September in exceptional years.

The female lays a single egg on the flower heads of kidney vetch, the caterpillar food plant. Only one egg tends to be laid per plant as the young caterpillars can be cannibalistic. When not being anti-social the caterpillar feeds on developing seeds in the flower head, undergoing 3 moults before hibernating under moss or in a crevice in the soil. The following spring the caterpillar pupates without further feeding.  Adults seem to prefer nectaring on the yellow flowers of kidney vetch or birds-foot trefoil, although other plants may be used.

Kidney Vetch flower colour forms

Kidney Vetch flower colour forms



 Colonies of this butterfly tend to be small and are prone to local extinctions due to their dependence on the levels of kidney vetch flowering in the colony area. Habitat fragmentation and loss due to building developments, changes in grazing and scrub encroachment, can all quickly make sites unsuitable for this habitat specialist species. Most colonies are found at coastal locations where erosion exposes bare ground where new kidney vetch seedlings can germinate and the adults can bask in the sun. Colonies may also be found at old industrial brown field sites or quarries; again with lots of bare ground and low fertility where the kidney vetch does not get out-competed by grasses. Low levels of grazing by rabbits can help maintain small blue colonies; however they do tend to eat the flower heads, as do sheep. Autumn /winter grazing and ground disturbance by cattle or horses is ideal at managed sites.


Working with the Scottish Wildlife Trust we would like to reintroduce this charming little butterfly to south west Scotland. Gailes Marsh is an SWT nature reserve situated just south of Irvine on the Ayrshire coast, and just 1km from the site of Ayrshire’s last small blue record.

Map of Gailes Marsh reserve

Map of Gailes Marsh reserve

The reserve currently boasts a range of butterfly and moth species including common blues, small coppers and dark green fritillaries. An area with a high density of kidney vetch exists in the south west of the reserve. We plan to expand this area and also transform the north- west section of the reserve into good small blue habitat. Coastal dunes west of the reserve contain suitable small blue habitat with good amounts of kidney vetch.

It is hoped that we will eventually see natural colonisation of this area by butterflies from the reserve.


The timing of the actual reintroduction will depend on how long it takes to create good quality habitat and maintain the levels of kidney vetch flowering on the reserve, which must be sufficiently high to support a healthy butterfly population. Kidney vetch is a short lived perennial which can take between 2-5 years to flower depending on conditions. We are currently in discussion with other branches of Butterfly Conservation about the source of initial small blue stock for the project.


Habitat creation at Gailes Marsh is due to commence in early 2010. The fertile top soil will be removed to create strips of bare sandy subsoil and south-facing soil banks that will be sown with kidney vetch seed. The areas sown with kidney vetch will be sheltered from the wind by planting native hedging along the western edge of the reserve.

Small Blue Buttefly on Kidney Vetch

Small Blue Buttefly on Kidney Vetch


Anyone who would like to help with this project would be very welcome indeed. We are currently looking for volunteers to help plant the hedges and sow kidney vetch. If you are able to find space in your back garden, window sill or green house to grow kidney vetch plants for the project, we can provide you with seed.


In the next few years we will also need volunteers to help monitor kidney vetch germination and flowering at Gailes Marsh and areas outside the reserve. After the small blues are introduced to the reserve we will need volunteers to help with timed counts of adult butterflies during their short flight season. This is necessary to monitor how well the project is going. Training in using a GPS device to accurately monitor kidney vetch patches or butterflies can be provided to any interested volunteers. This is a fantastic opportunity to get involved with real conservation work for a native Scottish species.


Scott Shanks





April 23, 2009

Recording and Monitoring Butterflies and Moths in South West Scotland

One of the most important aspects of conservation is the recording and monitoring of our native species. Monitoring a species over time allows us to determine whether the population is declining or increasing, and also provides data on the distribution of a particular species and whether they are increasing their range or becoming extinct at previous strongholds.

Small Tortoiseshell Survey

Small Tortoiseshell Survey


There are a range of ways in which you can get involved and I’ve listed a few below.

1. Monitoring specific species of Butterfly
The branch is looking for volunteers to help with species-specific surveys targeted to some of the most threatened butterfly species in Scotland. Participating in butterfly surveys is fun, informative and very rewarding. Plus it’s a great way to see some of the
UK’s rarest species. It involves a wee bit more than just counting butterflies as we also need to know a bit about the plants which comprise the habitat and the overall condition of the site.  To help conserve the UK BAP species in Scotland which are currently under threat, we need to revisit historical sites to see if the butterfly is still there and also to identify sites where the habitat has deteriorated and is a threat to the survival of the butterfly colony. These sites can then be flagged up with Butterfly Conservation, Scottish National Heritage and LBAP partners with the aim of getting appropriate management work done to improve the condition of the sites. This survey potentially requires only a single visit to a site (although return visits can help gain more data), and therefore you can choose to visit as few or as many sites as you wish. Every piece of information you collect could be immensely useful.
Surveys for the Chequered Skipper, Dingy Skipper, Pearl-bordered Fritillary, Mountain Ringlet, and Northern Brown Argus are detailed on the branch website:
2. Monitoring specific sites looking for butterflies
There are two ways that volunteers can help monitor butterflies and moths at particular sites.
2a. The first is the Butterflies of the Wider Countryside Survey.
This is a research project collecting data that can be used to monitor the abundance of butterfly species across the countryside. It involves only 2 visits to a particular site, once in July and once in August, but further optional visits in May and June would provide more data. The sites are all 1 km map squares that have been chosen randomly to provide an unbiased assessment of butterfly abundance in the countryside. The methodology involves walking across your
1km square twice in as straight a line as possible counting all of the butterflies that pass near to you. You can record others that are further off your route separately, but for the study you need to only record those that come within 5m of your position as you move along the route. This survey is being tried in our branch area for the first time during 2009 after trails in England and up in the Highland branch area of Scotland.
For more information on sites to be surveyed in the branch area and more on the methodology see
2b. The second type of site-specific survey is a Butterfly Transect.
This survey monitors butterflies on a set route through a particular site over the course of the Summer. The methodology requires one visit each week between April and September. The recorder takes a note of all butterflies that pass within a
5m by 5m ‘imaginary box’ in front of them as they walk along the route. It provides a wealth or information about the butterfly population on that site and can give an early warning of population declines, as well as providing data on when species are on the wing each year. There is a network of monitored transects (normally in nature reserves or on sites where threatened species are found) that are co-ordinated by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, but anyone can set up their own independent transect in their local park or along a canal footpath where they regularly walk with support from Butterfly conservation. A group can share a transect, which helps cover holiday weeks etc. For more information see.
3. One of the easiest ways to record butterflies is to send in casual records of butterflies you see when out for a walk, or in the garden. Every sighting is useful to build a picture of the distribution and abundance of all the species throughout the country. Each record requires a few details for it to be useful: The recorders name and address, the date, the species of butterfly seen, the number seen, and the location with a grid reference. A recording form is available here at All records are passed onto the national Butterflies for the New Millennium scheme organised by Butterfly Conservation and will be used to create distribution maps that can track changes in butterfly distribution throughout the country. Every county in the UK is covered by the recording scheme, so please keep a note of any butterflies that you see when on holiday too.
A good description of how to work out a grid reference can be found here:
4. South West Scotland is home to a large number of Moth species. Moth recording is an important part of Butterfly Conservation’s work. There are many varied species of moths throughout SW Scotland and it is well worth spending the time to study them. The National Moth Recording Scheme was set up in 2007 to provide a national database for macro-moths in the UK. This is a major step forward for moth recording in the UK. The branch area contains a number of moth species that are declining, rare or extinct in other parts of the UK, with over 854 species of macro-moths recorded in the branch area so far.

Conservation work is currently underway in the branch area to preserve the habitat of endangered burnet moths on the West Coast of Scotland. However you don’t need to travel to remote areas to record moths and provide useful data. You can record moths found in your garden using a light trap or a technique called wine/sugar roping to attract passing individuals, but even records of moths that come to your kitchen window could be very useful!

The branch has a number of moth traps available for members to borrow so they can have a go at light trapping, and a number of moth trapping events are run each year where you can come along and get an idea of what it’s all about (see events page on the branch website). There is also a network of vice county moth recorders throughout the UK, who collate all of the moth records in a particular county and who would be more than willing to help you with identifications and offer advice on how to get started. There is also a Yahoo group for Scottish moth recorders where members can post details of what they’ve caught recently or ask for Id help. We are luck enough to have some fantastically knowledgeable and experienced moth recorders in Scotland willing to help beginners get started.

For more information on recording moths and details of free training courses see the Moths Count website at

Please get in touch if you’d like to take part in any of the surveys, try moth trapping or set up your own transect and the committee will be glad to help with any questions and advice. If you’d like specific training for any of the recording schemes or just want to discuss your ideas, please get in contact and we’ll do are best to help you.

Best wishes and happy recording in 2009!

Scott Shanks


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