Year of the peacock?

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Year of the peacock?

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This week, I’m delighted to be able to bring you a guest blog from Butterfly Conservation’s Survey Manager, Richard Fox. I know that many Nature’s Home readers have enjoyed Patrick Barkham’s feature on butterflies in the current issue – thanks for all your brilliant photos so far. Please keep them coming. 

Are there peacocks in your garden? I don’t mean the huge, strutting ornamental birds that roam the grounds of stately homes, but the real, eyed beauty of our islands, the peacock butterfly.

Although a widespread and familiar sight, the fortunes of the peacock butterfly have waxed and waned over the years. Over the long-term, it is one of the minority of UK butterflies that has done fairly well, spreading northward, in response to climate change, to colonise much of northern Scotland. However, in recent years, peacock numbers have been disappointing, falling below the long-term average in eight of the 10 years up to 2012.

Peacock close up by Peter Eeles

But, last year may have marked a turning point. Peacock numbers soared in the summer heatwave of 2013, resulting in some of the biggest counts on record. The butterfly was the third most abundant species recorded in last year’s Big Butterfly Count, the highest placing it has ever achieved and an increase of over 30 times the number seen during the 2012 Count!

What will this year’s Big Butterfly Count, which runs from Saturday 19th July to Sunday 10th August, show for the beloved peacock? The signs are promising. Not only did the butterfly do well in 2013, but the numbers emerging from hibernating earlier this year were impressive. What’s more, velvet-black peacock caterpillars, the offspring of these hardy, overwintering insects, have been much in evidence on nettle beds across the UK in recent weeks.

All this bodes well for a massive emergence of new Peacock butterflies right now, just in time for the Big Butterfly Count. And other butterflies may do well too, benefiting from the (relatively) good summer last year and mild conditions so far in 2014. I’d also tip the small tortoiseshell and brimstone to be among the winners this summer.

We’ll only know how butterflies are faring this year, of course, if you go out and take part in the Big Butterfly Count. It’s quick, easy and fun to do and all the information gained is used to help conserve butterflies. Just spend 15 minutes counting butterflies in any sunny place and submit your sightings via www.bigbutterflycount.org or the free Big Butterfly Count smartphone app.

Comments
  • Nailsea, North Somerset.  Buddleias around here have been largely empty of all butterflies - very noticeable drop.  On similar lines, lavenders have few bees and wild clover sparsely populated by all insects.  Shattering!