Page 1

15

RECORDING BUTTERFLIES IN AN IPSWICH GARDEN, 1980-1993 RICHARD G. STEWART As a prelude to summarising data from the ongoing 1994 'Suffolk Garden Butterfly Survey' it seemed appropriate to analyse the butterfly records from our garden, which is essentially 'suburban', at the town end of Belstead Road, only an eight-minute walk from the Railway Station. The garden is about '/sth acre, mostly south-facing, and with very little deep shade early in spring. It has a 'wild' section and a small pond, plus many well-established trees and shrubs. It is in an area where almost all the gardens are fairly large and well established. Madge Payne describes a 'butterfly-hostile' garden as being: "A cold, windswept, overshadowed garden which faces north and is planted with rhododendrons, roses, lilies and gladioli." (Payne, 1987). In contrast, the ideal butterfly garden is described by Margaret Vickery in the following terms: "It should face in all directions, should be large, mainly open to the sun but sheltered, and grow at least 20 different nectar-producing plants. The garden should be in a rural Situation and be near a wild habitat." (Vickery, 1993). Our garden meets most of Vickery's criteria though the nearest 'wild' habitat is about one mile away, on either side of the Belstead Brook above Bourne Park. There is a wealth of tall and sheltering trees and we do not use insecticides, preferring to dissuade greenfly and the like with jets of soapy water. Between 1980 and 1993 we recorded 18 species of butterfly, which is nearly one-third of the British list. The Butterfly Survey sheet lists 30 species, but includes rare visitors like the Silver-studded Blue. Within our garden we have had two-thirds of the butterfly-attracting plants listed in the County Survey sheet, i.e. 26 out of 39, though L. Hugh Newman in his pioneeering book lists 49 species, some of which are classified as 'wild flowers' (Newman, 1967). Butterflies which overwinter as adults (perhaps using our dilapidated shed, large woodpile, garage, or the deep fissures in the bark of our old fruit trees) desperately need a ready source of nectar. In early spring our garden offers Aubretia (Aubrieta deltoidea), Arabis (Arabis albida) and the Primulas, but we also make room for Dandelion (Taraxacum officinalis) and carpets of Red Deadnettle (Lamium purpureum), both of which are excellent for attracting early butterflies. The advice to include the Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) in a 'butterfly garden' needs to stress the need for the bed to be extensive, in a sunny position, and cut in early July to encourage the Red Admiral and the second brood of the Small Tortoiseshell. The presence of Stinging Nettles in our garden has not led to any egg-laying. Honesty (Lunaria sp.), which is also abundant in our garden, has led to both Brimstone and Orange Tip settling . Other flowers present in our garden in spring and early summer include Alyssum (Lobularia maritima), Sweet William (Dianthus barbatus), Phlox, Sweet Rocket (Hesperis matronalis) and Candy Tuft (Iberis sp.). Although our herb garden is not in fĂźll sunlight the different mints, Thyme (Thymus sp.) and Marjoram (Origanum vulgare) all attract butterflies. Marjoram is considered second only to Buddleia as the most important 'nectar plant' (Vickery, 1993). Recently we introduced a bramble (Rubus fruticosus) to attract Large and Small White, Peacocks and Gatekeepers. In the Coming year the blackberries may also Trans. Suffolk Nat. Soc. 30 (1994)


16

Suffolk Natural History, Vol. 30

attract later butterflies such as the Comma and Red Admiral, which feed on the juice of soft windfall apples. Leaving the lawn uncut for a few days has in the past attracted the Small Skipper, and a tall Ragwort (Senecio jacobaea), left to flower in the middle of a strawberry bed, attracted many insects, including the Small Copper. Our two extensive beds of lavender have so far attracted nine species of butterfly, only eclipsed by the Buddleia davidii which has attracted 11 species and the dayflying migrant moth the Silver Y (Autographa gamma). Garden Ivy (Hedera helix) in flower in late autumn has attracted C o m m a and Red Admiral butterlies, whilst offering hibernating possibilities for our fÜur or live species that spend the winter as adults, and a tall purple variety of Erigeron along our kitchen border not only flowers well into autumn but has attracted eight spp. of butterflies, including the Holly Blue and Green-veined White. On lOth April 1992 my wife disturbed a fresh Holly Blue on an ornamental variegated Ivy, it had obviously overwintered there, and in August 1989 we had seen a Common Blue egg laying on the tall stems left Standing from a crop of mustard. Later this specimen roosted high on another stem, well camouflaged against any predators. We have seen few roosting butterflies, though a Comma was on a conifer (Cupressocyparis leylandii) overnight on 27th September 1992. Predation on adult butterflies has seldom been seen in our garden although Spotted Flycatchers perch on our cherry tree above a lavender bush often visited by butterflies. However, a Blackbird for several nights took a toll of many moths around twilight, intercepting them and pursuing them acrobatically through the air. L. Hugh Newman (1967) comments that: "On average butterflies born in suburban areas, where private gardens and public parks provide an abundant source of nectar from flowers, live longer than those in the wild." This is probably true, but our suburban garden seldom gets the numbers of butterflies that wilder habitats attract, although in August 1991 there were 20 small Tortoiseshells and, in 1992, 31 Large Whites (20 on one lavender bush) and also 53 Peacocks (26 on one Buddleia) at one time. The best day so far for visiting species was 26th July 1992, ten being recorded. In contrast, one Red Admiral, one Small Copper and one Comma were the only autumn visitors to lateflowering Buddleia, soft fruits and Ivy in 1993. 1990 was a particularly good year for late-flying butterflies, Wall Brown, Large White, Small Copper and Red Admiral all Aying well into October, with a very late Holly Blue on 24th October. The latest record for any species so far is a Red Admiral on 19th November 1988. Among the 15 species which are regulär visitors to our garden are all the 'top ten urban garden butterflies' from Vickery's 1992 survey. Of the remaining three species we have recorded, the Painted Lady is usually attracted to the Buddleia but was absent in 1993, the Small Skipper has not been seen for several years, for some unknown reason, and we had a Grayling suddenly land on some patchwork material in August 1983. Looking to the future we could provide additional sources of nectar by introducing new plants, in particular Heliotrope (Heliotropium var. 'Cherry Pie'), Hebe (Veronica sp.), Michaelmas Daisies (Aster novi-belgii), a shorter, more

Trans. Suffolk Nat. Soc. 30 (1994)


BUTTERFLIES IN AN IPSW1CH GARDEN

17

compact Erigeron (var. 'Profusion'), and Hemp Agrimony (Eupatorium cannabinum) which is usually associated with damp meadows but, according to the 1992 BC Survey, is one of the best butterfly-attracting plants in gardens. We may explore Madge Payne's idea of having trial beds of flowers to determine the preferences of visiting butterflies. Recording butterfly activity is particularly important in our county which has suffered more than most regarding the disappearance of resident butterfly species. Gardens are becoming an increasingly important habitat, not just for butterflies but for many forms of wildlife. It has been calculated that the total acreage of all our country's gardens exceeds that of all our nature reserves.

References Keble Martin, W. (1965). The Concise British Flora in Colour. London: Ebury Press and Michael Joseph. Mendel, H . & Piotrowski, S. H. (1986). The Butterflies of Suffolk. Ipswich: Suffolk Naturalists' Society. Newman, L. H. (1967). Create a Butterfly Garden. London: John Baker. Payne, M. (1987) Gardening for Butterflies. Dedham: Butterfly Conservation. Vickery, M. (1993). Garden Butterfly Survey 1992. Butterfly Conservation News 53, 50. Richard G. Stewart 63 Belstead Road, Ipswich, Suffolk IP2 8BD (Conservation Officer for the Suffolk Branch of Butterfly Conservation and County Recorder for Lepidoptera (Butterflies))

Trans. Suffolk Nat. Soc. 30 (1994)


Plate 2: Comma, Polygonia c-album L., attracted to Ivy blossom in late autumn. (p. 16).


Plate 3: Red Admiral, Vanessa atlanta L., showing wing damage from bird attack. (p. 16).


Plate 4: Painted Lady, Cynthia cardui L., a migrant species often attracted to Buddleia. (p. 16).

Recording Butterflies in an Ipswich garden, 1980-1993  

Stewart, R. G.