Red Admiral picture       Butterflies & Bats
in Willersey
      Pipistrelle picture

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Willersey's Butterflies and Bats

Sadly, the days when our car windscreens in summer would be covered in insects seems to be a thing of the past, and a whole range of insects are now much depleted and in some cases probably lost locally. Butterflies continue to be part of this generally declining picture, but there is still much to enjoy in and around the village when we are keeping a lookout at key times of the year.

Species of butterfly that over-winter as dormant adults like the bright yellow brimstone are often the first to be seen on the wing and in good numbers locally, along with small tortoiseshell, peacock and comma butterflies. Such hibernation, of course, often occurs unseen in our garden sheds and outbuildings, with some butterflies seeing out the winter months with the aid of a kind of antifreeze; but small tortoiseshell also regularly hibernate amongst the church bells - presumably with ear defenders. Early season orange tips - with only the showy males sporting the ‘trademark’ orange tips - are well represented; as are holly blues, another early emerging butterfly which benefits from feeding on holly and then ivy later in the summer.

Both large and small whites are seemingly breeding in good numbers; as well as green veined whites with those green veins visible on the underside of their wings. Gate keeper is another common butterfly around the village with their prominent orange winged markings; speckle wood and meadow brown noted too, with the close proximity of hedgerows and the disused ‘greenway’ railway track helping to encourage such butterflies to sometimes appear in our gardens. The exotic looking marbled white and small copper can also occasionally be spotted in the field margins close to Willersey.

Migrant red admirals - although some do now over-winter here in southern England - are to be seen, particularly later in the year, along with the equally attractive painted lady which also migrates to our shores, sometimes in huge numbers.
Despite the reduced numbers generally and loss of some varieties, the total numbers of butterflies reported throughout the year in and around the village still numbers 16 different species. So not all bad news.

Moths of course is a whole other story, a chiefly nocturnal world hidden from most of us, but there are village reports of attractive moths that have been spotted during the day such as the exotic migrant hummingbird hawkmoth, and other striking moths which are resting up during the day such as garden tigers, the migratory silver Y, red underwings and the elephant hawk moth.

Of course the other nocturnal creature we may no always notice are bats. Crevice-dwelling common pipistrelle are regularly seen and reported in the village, noted for their erratic, twisting flight pattern. Brown long eared bats are present too, with their slow and hovering flight, a bit like a big butterfly. There have also been reports of noctule bats slightly away from the village - our largest British bat - that typically flies in a straight line high overhead looking for prey in the tree canopy.

Many who read this may be very well acquainted and possibly much more informed about these creatures. But with thanks to all those many people who have reported interesting sightings, this piece is another record of what has been seen in Willersey over the past three years, and is clearly something many of us would wish to celebrate and continue to enjoy.

Butterfly in Willersey garden     Bob Topp, September 2020
      Common Blue

A poll of 2356 people took place in October and November in 2021 and sightings of every listed butterfly species in the UK fell.

The greatest decline was the painted lady with a full 40% drop in gardeners spotting them compared with 2020. Over the last two years sightings of this species have almost halved with only 16% of some people responding to a survey stating they had seen one in their garden last year. One in five people said they had seen large and small white butterflies in 2021 compared to one in four the previous year.

Numbers had been falling for a long time due to the loss of land that is suitable for the insects to lay their eggs with chemical pollution also harming them. Since the 1950s the UK has lost 97% of its flower rich meadows, 80% of its chalk and limestone grassland and half of its ancient native woodland.

Gardeners are encouraged to create more welcoming habitats. Adding plants that are good for caterpillars such as cuckooflower, nettles, buckthorn and native shrubs such as hazel and hawthorn could attract more butterflies. Allowing grass to grow longer and refraining from cutting in winter gives caterpillars places to hide.

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