Ray Colliers Country Diary – Butterflies in the Highlands

This has been  a very poor year for butterflies in the Highlands  with negative reports coming in from various parts including around Inverness.   Even the formerly common butterflies such as the small tortoiseshell have been scarce and reports of the migrants  such as red admiral and painted lady have been few and far between.   Even the normally outstanding areas such as Glen Strathfarrar and the dunes east of Nairn have had a poor showing as regards   both the common and rare butterflies.  The reason is not difficult to see as, unlike southern  parts of the UK  that have experienced good weather for butterflies, the Highlands have had poor weather.  Cold nights in  late May and  long periods of rain at the wrong time have taken their toll.   Even the normally common butterflies such as green veined whites and meadow browns, such as the one in the photograph, have been virtually absent.

Gardens have been a reflection of this poor year and many people have been disappointed after taking active measures to make sure there were, and are,  plenty of flowers as  nectar sources.  Our garden  is typical  of many others and it started  with the bad weather last winter.  Many plants that would normally proved a nectar source for adult butterflies in the summer died off in the prolonged frost and snow of the winter months.  Those in plastic pots, both large and small pots seemed to suffer the most.  Our wooden tubs faired better but even so come the spring and we were faced with replacing many plants.  Buddleias seemed badly affected and there was a rush at local garden centres to restock in time for  the summer butterflies.  The end result in our garden has been a fine display of various coloured plants  in flower for weeks and not a single butterfly on them.  We normally have around   15 species of butterflies in the garden and this year, so far, have only had three species.  The various Sedums, ice plants, are still to flower fully but surely now it will be just too late for any more butterflies.

In the general countryside there have been one or two exceptions and one of them has been the Scotch argus.   In some areas it has been scarce or just low in  numbers but in others the numbers seem to have been normal.  At one site in the west there were many hundreds of Scotch argus at  one site and even a few roadside verges seemed to do well for this very attractive butterfly.  The answer as to why the Scotch argus has done well  may be for two reasons.    One is that for some reason it will tolerate overcast weather.  Some years ago at one site in the west I actually saw a pair in their courtship flight and then the female laying eggs and all this is in fine drizzle although admittedly the temperatures were fairly high.  The other reason is that the caterpillars are not selective in their food plant and virtually any grass will do.