Glasgow & SW Scotland Butterflies

Glasgow & SW Scotland Branch Website

March 3, 2010

Recording Butterflies in Your 1km Patch

Filed under: Butterflies — Tags: , , , , — Scott Shanks @ 11:12 pm

Do you currently record butterflies in your garden or around your neighbourhood? Perhaps you’ve fancied taking part in one of the branch butterfly surveys but the sites were all too far away or took up too much time with repeated visits? If so you might be interested in the ‘My Patch’ recording project which aims to discover more about the butterfly species in Your local area. It’s not hard work and gets you out of the house with a purpose. By doing a ‘patch’ it means you wander anywhere you can access within a 1kilometer square. Go out as often as you like, for as long as you like – just get out for a walk and simply jot down the date and what you see.

Painted Lady

Painted Lady

Your ‘patch’ can start right outside your front door if you like. Even by walking through housing areas, glancing in allotments, hedges, spare land, scrubby areas, river banks etc. you can usefully record areas which will otherwise be blanks on the County records map. Others might prefer to get in a car or on a bike and do a ‘patch’ a couple of miles away, you know, that bit you’ve always thought looks good but never quite got there to have a good look.


If you fancy the idea, and there really is not any more to it, get in touch with me and tell me the ‘patch’ you want to do or let me know where you are and I’ll suggest a ‘patch.’ I need to know before you start because somebody else might already be doing the bit where you are. Just use footpaths, roadside verges or areas with open access as we don’t want you being frog marched out of anywhere or having to run like the clappers with a bull halfway up your shirt tail! Go on, give ‘patches’ a go – adopt a 1km square as your own.

The scheme was launched last year in the Cumbrian branch area and Steve Doyle of the Cumbrian Branch reports great success, with many folk there wanting to do the next 1km square too! It’s always the same, when you get to the boundary of your square, the next bit looks interesting too!

You can either e-mail or post me your records at the end of each month or all together at the end of the year and I’ll pass them onto the correct Butterfly Recorder for your area and ensure that all your records get passed onto the National Butterfly database. There is a recording form that you can use to keep track of your records.


Scott Shanks

Flat 1/2 , 113 Haugh Road



G3 8TX



Transect recording has been the key method of recording thus far and will continue in the future as it is a very valuable source of repetitive data from which trends emerge. We can use the information gathered from these trends to see how well butterflies are doing across the country and can also tell if management action needs to be taken at the transect site to protect the species there.

Some regard transects as rather formal however and are not so willing to commit to walking a transect once a week. Even so, despite formal transects and other valuable ad hoc records there were still a vast number of blank unrecorded or under-recorded squares (even in towns and cities) in south west Scotland. This is where the ‘Your Patch’ recording project can help.

If you already send in your casual/ ad hoc records from day trips and walks please continue to do so as you are contributing vital information for research into butterfly distribution.

The My Patch recording project will hopefully highlight areas in our cities, towns, villages and the countryside where butterflies are thriving, squares with lots of species or those with high numbers of a particular species. This information can be used by local councils managing our green spaces or community groups keen to encourage biodiversity or land owners keen to manage their land with wildlife in mind.

South West Scotland Butterfly ‘Patches’ – General Guidelines

  1. If your square covers an area where you feel threatened or in danger, don’t do it. Report back to me and we can agree a different one.
  2. No need to stick to the same route in your square every time. Go everywhere within it that you can. Your square is at most 1km long so it is not a long way from one side to the other.
  3. Best times of day to record are 10.00 until 16.00 but beyond that in a very warm spell and provided the weather is fine.
  4. Remember different species fly at different times of the year so visit regularly or at least once a month.
  5. Walk at a slow steady pace, lingering in likely places, watching for movement.
  6. Not all species fly at eye level or below. The Purple Hairstreak is very under-recorded in  South West Scotland. The Purple Hairstreak is undoubtedly more widespread, so in late afternoons in July and early August pause and look for movement at the top of oak trees. If you see ‘silver coins’ flitting around they are likely to be Purple Hairstreaks which rarely come to ground.
  7. If you have difficulty telling different species apart, let me know and I will get some help for you.
  8. Complete your form during your visit or immediately after. Don’t leave it too long.


My local patch is in the west end of Glasgow. Grid reference NS5665.


my 1km local Square

my 1km local Square

It’s not the greenest area with few gardens containing flowers, but it does include a great bit of rough grassland and wildflowers in Yorkhill Park (behind the children’s hospital) where I’ve seen 9 species! The most important thing is that I walk through parts of this square at least once a day. I’ll likely also do the square to the north of it NS5666 too, as I walk through this on the way to work almost every day (and it has a bit more green areas and potential habitat!).





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





January 20, 2010

So, where do all the butterflies go in winter?

Filed under: Butterflies — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — Scott Shanks @ 11:54 pm

Good question! I’m sure everyone must have fond childhood memories of warm summer days during the School holidays, playing in the sunshine, Swallows in the sky and warblers singing in the trees and of course, butterflies fluttering by. As summer turns to autumn the swallows and warblers take their leave and head south for warmer lands. BUT, where do all the butterflies go?

Well, although you’re unlikely to see them, most UK species don’t head south with the swallows and warblers. They spend the winter in gardens, parks and the countryside hibernating either as an adult, chrysalis, caterpillar or an egg!

There are a number of survival strategies used by butterflies in the UK to survive the chilly winter conditions. Species listed are those found in South West Scotland.

The Life Stages of Scottish Butterflies during winter

The Life Stages of Scottish Butterflies during winter



Species such as Painted Ladies, Clouded Yellows and Red Admirals migrate to the UK each year in varying numbers from their breeding grounds in Southern Europe and North Africa. These butterflies generally can’t survive our winter, and until recently it was thought that most died with the first chilly days. However in 2009 scientists with Butterfly Conservation showed that at least a proportion of Painted Ladies make a reverse migration in autumn, heading back across the English Channel and down through Europe. Clouded Yellows and Red Admirals may also use this strategy.

Some species such as Peacocks, Small tortoiseshells and Commas spend the winter hibernating as adults. These butterflies spend the summer and autumn feeding up on lots of nectar and the fermenting juices of windfall apples, plums and brambles, building up enough body fat to last them through the winter. The butterflies seek out log piles, crevices in tree trunks, dense vegetation and piles of leaves and occasionally garden sheds, barns and other out buildings. On warm days the butterflies may emerge to search for any plants still in flower to top up their reserves, but swiftly return to their hibernation site if it clouds over. In England the Brimstone also hibernates as an adult. Butterflies that hibernate as adults are often the first to be seen in the year. This generation takes advantage of early spring flowers and new vegetation on which to lay their eggs that will go on to produce the next generation.

If you find a butterfly hibernating behind your curtains or the wardrobe in the spare room, leave it where it is. However, If the room is heated and the butterfly is quite active it can use up all of its energy very quickly, so it is better to move it to a cooler location such as a shed or outbuilding where it will remain until the good weather comes again in March/April. 

Another common strategy is to spend the winter as a chrysalis. This is the magical intermediate stage between caterpillar and adult. Butterflies that spend the winter as a chrysalis often do so at the base of the food plant or in grass tussocks or just beneath the soil. This helps to protect them from the worst of the frost. These butterflies can react quickly to changes in the spring weather, and complete their transformation and emerge as adults to take advantage of fresh growth of their caterpillar food plants. Butterflies that use this strategy include: The whites (Large White, Small White, Green-veined White and Orange-Tips), the Holly Blue and Speckled Woods*. These butterflies commonly have 2 or more broods per year, even in Scotland. This is likely due to their ability to get the first generation of the year going quickly.

Spending the winter as a caterpillar is the most common strategy used by butterflies and most moths. As summer changes to autumn, caterpillars that have been happily munching on their food plant often move down to snuggle among the leaves and debris at the base of the food plant or grass tussock.  During warmer spells the caterpillar can continue to feed  and so can top up energy reserves. The advantage of passing the winter in a relatively mobile form if flooding occurs in spring, they may be able to move to safety. Butterflies which spend the winter as a caterpillar include the Dingy Skipper, Chequered Skipper, Large Skipper, Small Skipper, Common Blue, Northern Brown Argus, Small Copper, Green Hairstreak, Small Pearl-Bordered Fritillary, Pearl-Bordered Fritillary, Dark Green Fritillary, Marsh Fritillary, Speckled Wood (*this species may also hibernate as a chrysalis*), Wall, Mountain Ringlet, Scotch Argus, Meadow Brown, Ringlet, Small Heath and Large Heath.

The final strategy is used by the Essex Skipper and various Hairstreaks in Britain, including the Purple Hairstreak in Scotland, is to spend the winter as an egg. The female Purple Hairstreak lays her eggs at the ends of oak twigs next to buds. The Purple Hairstreak caterpillar is fully formed inside the egg before the onset of winter. When the caterpillar hatches in spring it begins to feed on the little leaf buds, and perhaps avoids high levels of tannins that build up in oak leaves as they age. The Essex Skipper spends the winter as an egg and emerges in April/May to feed. Interestingly the adult Essex Skipper is on the wing just 1 month later than its close relation the Small Skipper which spends the winter as a caterpillar.

Scott Shanks

January 19, 2010

Happy 25th Anniversary Glasgow & South West Scotland Branch of Butterfly Conservation!

The 19th of January 2010 will mark the 25th anniversary since the founding of the branch way back in 1985!


To celebrate 25 years of supporting Butterfly and Moth Conservation in south west Scotland we are planning a year of exciting events including butterfly walks, moth nights, conservation work parties and members days with talks and presentations.


Happy 25th Anniversary Glasgow & SW Scotland Branch of Butterfly Conservation

Happy 25th Anniversary Glasgow & SW Scotland Branch of Butterfly Conservation


Come along to our Member’s Day in Glasgow on the 28th of March. Meet the committee and other members and find out local efforts to conserve Butterflies, moths and their habitats. There will be a number of presentations ranging from details of species surveys, up-coming events and local conservation projects you can get involved with.


The Members’ Day will be held at:

The Quaker Meeting House, 38 Elmbank Crescent, Charing Cross, Glasgow (opposite the Charing Cross Train station)

2pm to 5pm


Members are invited to bring along any Butterfly/ Moth pictures they’d like to show in digital format on a disk or memory stick. Or bring along any prints they’d like to display. If you would like to give a talk - please contact Neil Gregory on

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