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Get your tickets now for our Patrick Barkham talk on 17 November: Sunshine and Shade – Butterflies and Badgers in Britain Today

We are delighted to have persuaded Guardian natural history writer and author Patrick Barkham to give us a talk, which will be one of Thomas Hardye School’s Community Lectures.

Author of ‘The Butterfly Isles’, Patrick set out to see all of our 59 native species of butterfly, and his book tells of a memorable year travelling to all corners of the countryside seeking out butterflies and the enthusiasts who cherish them.

He will talk about the wonder of butterflies: beautiful creatures and also surprisingly complicated indicators of the state of nature today.

Richard Mabey described his book as: ‘Beguiling … in a vivid, adept, unapologetic voice, Barkham wonderfully catches the spirit of these ethereal creatures’.

He has also written ‘Badgerlands: the twilight world of Britain’s most enigmatic animal’. In the talk he will look at the facinating history of badgers and their interactions with humans, from ‘Wind in the Willows’ to the recent cull.

‘Badgerlands’ was chosen as a Book of the Year in The Times, The Sunday Times, The Guardian and the New Statesman.

This is a Community Lecture in aid of the Dorset Branch of Butterfly Conservation and of the local Primary schools’ science fund.

7.00 pm at the School Theatre, Thomas Hardye School, Queens Avenue, Dorchester DT1 2ET.

Tickets are free, with a collection at the end of the evening. Tickets can be collected from the school from November 4 onwards, or we can post them to you if you send a stamped addressed envelope to: Nigel Spring, 346 Mundens Lane Alveston, Sherborne, DT9 5HU. These Community Lectures are often full, so please do not rely on picking up a ticket on the door.

More details are on the Thomas Hardye School website:

Contact: Butterfly Conservation contact is Nigel Spring
Phone: 01963 23559 or 07981 776767
Email: [email protected]

Website improvements

You may notice that this website looks a little different. We have introduced two new headings: ‘About’ and ‘Get involved’, to help you find this information more easily (it was there before, but rather hidden).

At the same time, we’ve taken the opportunity to brighten the site up and make the home page a better introduction to all we do.

If you find any links which do not work, please let us know by completing our Contact Form.

If you have any suggestions for future website improvements please leave a ‘Reply’ to this article.

200+ Clouded Yellows at Langton Herring

Bob Ford describes this amazing sighting:

Impossible to count how many, but on one scan across a single field I counted 100 individuals in flight and settled. And there were two more fields like this! All were feeding on knapweed, not dispersing. All were fresh-looking. No helice females were seen at all.

If you see a Clouded Yellow on the wing, they are very distinctive – a mustard yellow, quite different from the bright lemon yellow of the Brimstone.

Clouded yellow

The sighting was on 22 September. Langton Herring is north-west of Weymouth. Photo: Bob Ford.

Sydling St Nicholas walk

A report on this walk, organised by Butterfly Conservation Dorset Branch, by its leader, Richard Belding:

The walk on Saturday 2 August was held by kind permission of the owner of Court Farm, Sydling St Nicholas, and was attended by nine people in glorious warm sunshine. The walk took us over downland, through a recreated wildflower meadow, a green lane and wildlife margins with some of these areas not normally open to the public.

Those that attended were rewarded with sightings of 17 species of butterfly. We also carried out a timed count as part of the Big Butterfly Count, during which we amazingly recorded 11 species with a total of 71 butterflies.

It is a tribute to the owner and his tenant that the habitats on the farm are so well managed and varied and we thank him for allowing us access.

Are Essex Skippers really starting to decline in Dorset?

Bill Shreeves, Records Officer, writes:

Since the Dorset Butterfly Atlas of 1985-89 ,when the first Essex Skipper was recorded in Dorset, the numbers of kilometre squares where they have been seen steadily increased for each 5-year atlas up to 131 in 2005-09. However, so far, for the new 2010-14 atlas only 72 kms have been recorded. We need to know whether this is a real decline or whether it is a falling off in recording.

Essex skipper

Essex Skipper, showing black tips to antennae. Photo: Gordon Cryer

It would be understandable if the latter were the case as Essex Skippers are very similar to Small Skippers & it takes some patience to look for the little black blobs on the ends of the antennae, shown in this recent photo of a freshly emerged Essex in Motcombe Meadows local reserve by Gordon Cryer.

Most of the sightings of Essex Skippers have occurred in North & East Dorset but they have arrived in Purbeck & Portland. Indeed proof has just come from this photo of the caterpillar swept out of grasses west of the Pulpit Inn by Ken Dolbear. Fortunately the caterpillar’s brown & white head stripes make it much easier to distinguish from the Small Skipper than the actual butterfly!

Essex skipper caterpillar

Essex Skipper caterpillar. Photo: Ken Dolbear

We would be very grateful to receive records of Essex Skipper from anywhere in Dorset but especially from the West where very few have been seen so far.

However please be sure that you have noticed the very clear black tips to the antennae. These tips are very abrupt and not gradually graded from the rest of the antenna. They look as if they have been pressed into a black ink pad or a little like the black ends of the old safety matches. They are most easily seen from the side or from slightly below the front of the butterfly. If these have not been observed the identification cannot be certain.

When you send in records to our website please be sure to add comments in the notes so that we can be re-assured that the identification is reliable. Essex Skippers are out now until the end of August and should be searched for on road verges or any grassland which has been allowed to grow fairly tall.

Swallowtails return to Dorset

[Update to the article below: as of 5 July we have had six separate reports of Continental Swallowtails in Purbeck, all around the St Alban’s Head area. There seem to be certainly two and probably three individual butterflies. The Continental Swallowtail is different to our native species, which is now only found breeding in Norfolk, where habitat is managed to provide the foodplant needed by its caterpillar, which is Milk Parsley.]

We had several reports of Swallowtail butterflies in Dorset last year, including one of caterpillars on carrot leaves in a garden in Wimborne, suggesting they might be breeding. You might also have seen on Springwatch that the Continental Swallowtail definitely bred in Sussex last year.

Swallowtail butterfly

Swallowtail butterfly

We have been waiting to see what would happen this year, and two separate reports of Swallowtails have just come in from St Alban’s Head (also called St Aldhelm’s) in Purbeck. On 28th June a group running orienteering relays saw one pitched on the path and on 29th June a watchkeeper for the National Coastwatch Institution at St Alban’s Head saw two circling around; she had recently seen them in Switzerland and was very confident of the identification.

We do not know if these are migrants, have bred locally or are releases, deliberate or accidental, but we would like to know of any other sightings, with a photo if possible. Please send your sighting to [email protected]

Moors Valley Country Park Bioblitz on 24 July – could you join in?

A bio-blitz means trying to identify as many species of flora and fauna as possible in a given time.

Moors Valley Country Park are looking for help of all sorts for their bio-blitz on 24 July, and you don’t have to be an expert. It’s great fun.

View a press release on their website explaining what they need.