None of us will forget the ‘Summer’ of 2012 which began with a Spring drought and hosepipe bans only to be followed by heavy rain, flooding and high winds. You might imagine that these were not the conditions under which you would expect Britain’s fussiest butterfly to prosper, but prosper it did!
Egg surveys carried out in early July showed that over 50,000 eggs had been laid on the site, an increase of over 26% on the 2011 total. This was the seventh consecutive year that the Large blue population has increased. Equally pleasing, were the 1000+ visitors who had embarked from destinations as far afield as Scotland, Tasmania, Holland and New Zealand to see Large blues flying on this beautiful site.
The 2012 Collard Large Blue Ranger, Lottie Faulkner, reported that the flight period of the butterfly set a new record for the site of 53 days. These are all very encouraging statistics but should not suggest that the 2012 season was easy for Lottie and the dedicated volunteers who helped visitors navigate the site, nor for the National Trust Site Managers Ian Clemmett and Hayley Dorrington.
Wet weather gear became the norm throughout the flight period when there was seldom a period of settled sunshine, however, on virtually every day the sun did appear for an hour or so allowing the butterflies to mate and lay eggs and rewarded determined photographers who captured their cherished images.
Heavy rainfall caused the grass to grow at an incredible rate and by the time that egglaying began many of the Wild Thyme plants were so swamped by the flowering grass spikes that the female butterflies could not get down to the tight-budded Thyme flowers. Posters were put around the site and Lottie and her helpers encouraged visitors to carefully reveal the flowers by picking the grass stems. When the egg surveys were carried out it became obvious that this had been enormously helpful at ensuring that eggs were well distributed across the site.
By early August, Pat Burrough and Martin Lawrence’s Dexter cows and ponies were back on the site with a monumental task of grazing down the tall sward that had developed throughout the flight period. At the time of writing this article, (17th May 2013), the site is perfectly grazed and the prospects for the 2013 flight season are excellent.
Winter scrub management has ensured that the livestock and butterflies can move freely around the site and that the rich grassland flora is not shaded out. This work was carried out by National Trust staff and NT volunteers, with additional help from Somerset Wildlife Trust and Butterfly Conservation volunteers, led by Caroline Kelly (Butterfly Conservation). Collard is one of 14 sites in the local area which makes up the SITA funded project Expanding the Large Blue Landscape in the Polden Hills. This project is restoring habitats for Large blues by implementing scrub management, thyme planting and monitoring. The project is based on partnership working between Butterfly Conservation, J&F Clark Trust, National Trust and the Somerset Wildlife Trust.
It is always difficult to accurately predict when the first Large blue will appear on Collard, particularly as the season is a late one but I still expect that they will be flying here during the first week of June. I recommend that you check the NT Large blue blog for up to date information throughout the flight period which will be updated daily by the 2013 Collard Hill Large blue Ranger, Steve Clare, to whom I offer a warm welcome.
All the signs suggest that there will be a very good population of Large blues on Collard this year and I encourage you to visit this wonderful site to see one of nature’s rarest and most beautiful butterflies.
Large Blue Butterfly Project Manager.
David is a freelance ecologist who has worked on Large blues for 30 years for Butterfly Conservation, Oxford University and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.
The Large Blue Project is underpinned by science, carried out by Oxford University and CEH and implemented by a collaborative partnership between Butterfly Conservation, CEH, Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust, J&F Clark Trust, National Trust, Natural England, Network Rail, Oxford University and the Somerset Wildlife Trust.