Butterflies are once again coming under the spotlight in a postcard survey to find out what has happened to the Small Tortoiseshell.
Formerly a common garden butterfly, the Small Tortoiseshell has become scarce in Southern Scotland and other parts of the UK. Butterfly Conservation Scotland is trying to find out why, and people in the Highlands can help by sending in sightings.
Paul Kirkland, Butterfly Conservation said: “It is shocking to realise just how quickly and by how much this very familiar ‘garden’ butterfly has declined across large parts of the UK – and we don’t know why.
“One possible cause is the recent colonisation by a continental parasitic fly that attacks the caterpillars. In the UK, the Small Tortoiseshell should be benefiting from global warming. Its decline underlines the unexpected consequences that climate change could have on our native fauna and flora, and why we must do all we can to protect and conserve all our species and habitats, not just the rarities.”
The Small Tortoiseshell over-winters as an adult (sometimes in houses) and flies in gardens and other flower-rich areas mainly between March and early June, and again from late July through to September. Its caterpillars feed on the young leaves of nettles growing in sunny places.
Councillor Isobel McCallum, Chairperson of the Highland Biodiversity Partnership and Vice Chair of the Council’s Planning, Environment and Development Committee, said: “We hope that this survey will encourage people to find out more about the butterflies and other wildlife that live in their gardens, parks and green spaces. Contact your local Countryside Ranger if you would like to get involved in survey and recording projects.”
Look out for postcards of the Small Tortoiseshell in Highland Libraries, Museums and Service Points. You can report any sightings by visiting www.butterfly-conservation.org and clicking on the ‘Scottish Small Tortoiseshell Survey’ link.
There are 33 species of butterfly that regularly breed in Scotland, and around 1300 species of moths, although more are coming north each year with climate change.
Butterfly Conservation Scotland and the Highland Biodiversity Partnership have produced a guide to help people identify butterflies in the Highlands. The guides and postcards are available from Highland Council’s Countryside Rangers or by contacting Janet Bromham, Highland Biodiversity Officer on 01463 702274 e-mail email@example.com.