Count maps flutter-free summer

This was the year when my butterfly-counting was supposed to have done a ‘quantam leap’. Or, I suppose, you could say take flight.
I’ve been doing my bit for Butterfly Conservation’s Big Butterfly Count for years, but decided this year it was time to give up on scraps of paper and blunt pencils and start using the charity’s app.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Sadly, though the app is good, 2016 wasn’t as good for butterflies. I’ve had my phone handy whenever I’ve been out and about, but there hasn’t been much for it to do.

Across Britain the weather wasn’t that bad, but the survey results show a Wales-wide collapse in many species’ populations. For example, small tortoiseshell numbers were down on 2015 by close to half.

Most others species saw downturns that were between 30 and 40 per cent. One or two did buck the trend – most notably, red admiral and large white.

Sadly, records show the sharpest drop in numbers has happened in Wales, although England, Scotland and Northern Ireland have all experienced something similar. You can read a break down of the results here.

The strange thing is that 2016 had the sort of weather that would usually have been good to butterflies. It was warmer than average and fairly dry.

BC admits to being mystified, saying that the very mild 2015-16 winter may have had a negative effect, or perhaps it was the cold spring. Or, maybe pesticide use is really beginning to take its toll.

Ivy, death and autumn’s insects

Over the last few years I’ve kept track on the passing of a big, old apple tree. When I first ‘knew’ it, it had some leaves and an apple or two – and there was some ivy on its trunk and some boughs.

Then, the leaves didn’t appear one spring a few years back. Since then, the ivy (Hedera helix) has grown to engulf the dead tree.

Now, I know there are ivy-haters out there. I’ve run into them in the past and know that the most extreme feel they need to be out and about ‘rescuing’ trees, otherwise ivy won’t stop until it has felled every last one.red-admiral

In one case someone told me that he kept a saw in the boot of his car and would use it to cut through ivy stems so that the climber wouldn’t kill its supporting tree. I tried to put the case for ivy, but worried that he might use the saw on me if I didn’t move on sharply.

I’ll say it here though, ivy does not harm trees. A healthy mature tree and the grow that’s growing on it are more of a partnership than host and parasite.

The ailing apple tree was an opportunity for its ivy. As it sickened, its canopy thinned and the ivy flourished in the full light.

In time the weight of the ivy over-balanced the dead tree, and it began to shift as its decaying roots lost grip. It took a storm last winter to finally bring tree and ivy down.

Since then, it’s been fascinating to watch as the ivy has adjusted to its new orientation. The plant has been able to re-set its bearings and respond accordingly.

Now there are flowers at the tips of its uppermost stems. Ivy heads for the sun and then forms flower heads at the limits of its reach.

They’re in bloom now and will be until late November, providing an excellent source of food for all sorts of insects, like flies, bees, wasps and butterflies.

At the downed tree today they were out in force, warmed by some afternoon sun. Few wasps this year, at least here in Pembrokeshire, but it was good to see few late butterflies – a comma, a small tortoiseshell and a couple of red admirals, both as good as new.