Where are our Small Tortoiseshells?
Gardeners are being asked to focus on their flowerbeds to look for one of the UK's best-loved butterflies whose numbers appear to have plummeted this summer.
Small Tortoiseshell is one of the most recognisable and widespread UK species and is a regular garden fixture in high summer. But this year, numbers have been worryingly low as the cool spring and slow start to the summer appear to have taken their toll on the butterfly's attempts to breed and feed.
Small Tortoiseshell sightings are significantly down across the UK and gardeners are being asked to look out for the butterfly by joining the Garden Butterfly Survey, sponsored by B&Q, to help build a picture of what is happening.
Small Tortoiseshell has endured a tumultuous recent history. The butterfly, whose population has plummeted by 73 per cent since the 1970s, had seen its numbers rise over the last few years and hopes were high that it was on the path to recovery. But this summer's poor showing could mean the species is set for yet more years of decline.
Small Tortoiseshell (Photo: Bob Eade)
Butterfly Conservation Head of Recording Richard Fox said: "We don't understand what is causing the drastic long-term decline of this familiar and much-loved butterfly. Theories involve climate change, pollution and parasitic flies that kill the butterfly's caterpillars, but we need more information.
"If you see Small Tortoiseshells or any other butterflies in your garden, the Garden Butterfly Survey provides an easy way to enter your sightings, contribute to citizen science and store your records for posterity."
Butterflies are important indicators of the health of the environment. By helping them, gardeners can help create a better home for wildlife, especially beneficial insects such as bees that play a vital role in pollinating wildflowers and many crops.
The UK's estimated 22 million gardens represent an area roughly the size of Somerset and, at a time when butterflies are in severe decline, offer a potentially huge and vitally important habitat. Butterfly sightings can be entered online at Garden Butterfly Surveywww.gardenbutterflysurvey.org to help build a picture of the fortunes of these beautiful insects.
Rachel Bradley, Sustainability Manager at B&Q and recognised as 'Unsung Hero' at the Guardian Sustainable Business Awards 2016, said: "Over the past few weeks we've been holding events in our stores to help customers learn more about how vital a habitat their gardens are for butterflies.
"With the late summer so many of us are enjoying, we're hoping customers will create more vital habitats for these wonderful creatures by planting lots of pollinator-friendly plants in their gardens, pots and window boxes this weekend and helping record the butterflies which visit."