Category Archives: Science & Research

OBE for Dr Martin Warren

A group of people walking towards the camera across grass
Martin Warren (far left) at Alners Gorse Butterfly Reserve

The Dorset Branch of Butterfly Conservation are delighted to see that Martin Warren, recently retired Chief Executive of Butterfly Conservation, has been awarded an OBE. Some people think this stands for ‘Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire‘; we think it’s for ‘Outstanding Butterfly Expert’! Continue reading

Big Butterfly Count 2016 – the results

Comma. Photo: Andrew Cooper
Comma. Photo: Andrew Cooper

Common butterflies saw their numbers collapse over the summer despite the UK experiencing weather conditions that usually help them to thrive, results from the Big Butterfly Count have revealed. Continue reading

2015 Butterfly Report

Example of a double page spread from the report

You can find out how the butterflies of Dorset fared during 2015 from our Annual Butterfly Report, available on our Butterfly Reports page. 36 pages, now in full colour! See whether it was a good butterfly year or not, and which species fared well or badly. Continue reading

The State of the UK’s Butterflies 2015

Wall Brown
Wall Brown. Photo: Bob Eade

More than three-quarters of the UK’s butterflies have declined in the last 40 years with some common species suffering significant slumps, a major scientific study has revealed. Continue reading

Neonicotinoids linked to UK butterfly declines

Small Tortoiseshell
Small Tortoiseshell. Photo: Tim Melling

The use of neonicotinoid pesticides may be contributing to the decline of british butterflies a new study by the Universities of Stirling and Sussex in partnership with Butterfly Conservation and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology has revealed. Continue reading

Big Butterfly Count results

Holly Blue
Holly Blue (female) egg-laying. Photo: Dean Morley

A butterfly locked into an evolutionary struggle with its parasitic wasp nemesis, Listrodomus nycthemerusa, has bounced back this summer following a series of steep declines, results from the Big Butterfly Count have revealed! Continue reading

Holly Blue on the way up?

Holly Blue butterfly on a leaf, showing pale underside and a little of the black band of the edge around the top side of the wings
Holly Blue. Photo: Nigel Tooth

The Holly Blue is a butterfly which goes through a cycle of being very numerous, then plummeting to low levels, then increasing again. This is thought to be due to a parasitic wasp by the name of Listrodomus nycthemerus, which kills the butterfly in its caterpillar stage – when the butterfly numbers have been reduced far enough, the wasp has no host on which to predate, so the wasp’s numbers reduce, allowing the butterfly’s numbers to increase, and vice versa. Continue reading

New foodplant for Orange Tip?

Darryl Green was visiting the Chickerell Down Woodland Trust site, near Weymouth, in the Spring of 2013 when he saw Orange Tip butterflies laying on on a plant he didn’t immediately recognise.

Subsequent research suggested it was dittander (Lepidium latifolium), which is a rare plant in Dorset.

Returning to the site a few weeks later, Darryl was able to find 2 large caterpillars (full size, nearly ready to pupate), plus 3 smaller (less than 20mm), so the plant was obviously well suited to these butterflies.

Orange Tip caterpillar on plant thought to be dittander

Orange Tip caterpillar on plant thought to be dittander. Photo: Daryl Green

Dittander is a plant that it is native on some coasts in east and south England, as well as being naturalised at some sites inland like the Grand Union Canal in London.

In past days it was a standard herbal treatment for leprous sores, as well as being used as a food flavouring before horse radish – Darryl can confirm the latter (not the former!) because he tried it and says it has a hot, peppery taste.

Robin Walls, Dorset Plant Recording Officer, comments that that though the plant is rare in Dorset, Chickerell Downs could be a possible site.

It will have to wait until next year to check the identification: there are other plants of the pepperwort family present in Dorset with which it could be confused, especially if early grazing had damaged the growth of the plant.

Flower of plant thought to be dittander

Flower of plant thought to be dittander. Photo: Darryl Green

Bill Shreeves, Records Officer for the Dorset Branch of Butterfly Conservation said:

I have had a quick search through ancient & modern Butterfly literature and can find no mention of dittander as a food-plant for the Orange Tip, though it belongs to the crucifer group as do the butterfly’s other food plants. It is possible that the counties on the east and south coast, where the plant is thought to be native & grows on shingle, might have recorded it as an Orange Tip food-plant.

The certain identification of the plant will have to wait until it comes up again in 2014, but if you have any knowledge of it as an Orange Tip food plant, please let us know.

Well done to Darryl for his sharp observation, and thanks to him for letting us know about it.