Small Tortoiseshell struggling in Dorset and England

Orange butterfly iwth yellow, black and blue markings, on a white wall
Small Tortoiseshell. Photo: Shona Refoy

Shona Refoy from Broadstone, took this lovely picture on 07/09/18, and adds the shocking statement “I was delighted to see this butterfly, my first sighting [of this species] in Dorset this year!”

Small Tortoiseshells have been in short supply this year. Looking back at the records sent in to this website, the annual sightings have been:

  • 2018 – 490
  • 2017 – 756
  • 2016 – 462
  • 2015 – 963
  • 2014 – 3,203
  • 2013 – 1,106

These results were echoed in this year’s national Big Butterfly Count  which interestingly found that the species did poorly in England, but not so badly in Wales or Northern Ireland, and actually increased in Scotland. The reasons are not fully known, but this year’s extreme weather could not have helped.

If you want to help next year’s Small Tortoiseshells and other butterflies, plan to have some flowers which will give early nectar for those which come out of hibernation in early spring. Try aubretia, sweet rocket, and narcissi which do not have deep trumpets; dandelions are also excellent, and you can’t say they are difficult to grow! There are more ideas on gardening for butterflies and moths here:

One thought on “Small Tortoiseshell struggling in Dorset and England

  1. Rex Bale

    There were no small tortoiseshells on my transect (Kinson Common, Bournemouth) this year and only a single one last year. Matthew Oates in the Times yesterday (6 October) put forward a number of theories including the parasitic fly Sturmia bella destroying the larva, hibernating adults dying in overheated houses, and mild winters interrupting hibernation.


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