Quick update from Collard Hill – 24th June

May I first thank everyone who visits Collard Hill, Its fantastic to see and hear your stories from around the country – several of you have been to oxford and seen the Black hairstreaks the past few days.

Numbers of Large Blues are steady with about 6 being seen today – two were laying females this morning which is great news!

It was pretty hot on the hill today, the truck themometer was readiong 24 and that was in the shade…

This meant that the majority of Blues that were seen were sticking to the gorse areas down the gentle track, its a little cooler for them down here.

We were joined by three full time volunteers today from the Holnicote Estate today. Not having much limestone grassland where they work, it was a great chance for them too see a different site, learn about the project and see plenty of limestone grassland species – they certainly tested my knowledge today!

The weather for tomorrow is looking a little cooler with some rain coming mid afternoon and just another piece of information –  glastonbury festival is starting on Thursday so I can imagine there may be quite a bit of traffic on the roads tomorrow – you are still welcome to visit though!

Thank you to all who have been sending in photos of their visit to Collard, we hope to get them uploaded over the next couple of days.

Hayley – Ranger for the Mendip and Polden Hills

Marbled White - Hayley Dorrington

Marbled White – Hayley Dorrington

Ready for the 2014 flight season

Well, its been a right old dreary day over at Collard with rain falling the majority of the day. We have been setting up for the flight season; with posts going in, paths being strimmed, rope going out, car park looking all smart and a general good old tidy up. Ivythorn meadows are looking really good with plenty of orchids appearing – greater butterfly orchids in small patches!

Jono, who will be the large blue volunteer ranger is starting on Monday so if your out for a walk on the hill and see someone new,go and say hello!

Collard Hill is looking good at the moment with regards to grazing, the grass is at the right height so Pat (the grazier) has taken the cattle and ponies off the hill-side and put them into the top field. Doing this will ensure the grass doesn’t get too short and have an impact on the ant as well as the butterfly.

As for large blue sightings for 2014… there have been no confirmed sightings as yet. I was on site a few days ago and saw  common blues, a small heath and a large white.

Hayley – Ranger

Large blue training day… with no Large blues!

Today marks the tenth anniversary of the annual large blue training day at Collard Hill. Weather conditions were great, if not a little warm (I really didn’t think we would be saying this a few weeks ago!)

We had a brilliant day with new volunteers who would be helping with the daily transects; counting the number of large blue butterflies through a set area.

Unfortunately though,as with other butterflies this year, the Large Blue is taking its time to start flying. This is mainly down to the weather conditions at the beginning of the year.

Do not lose hope though! The Large Blue is sure to show itself over the next few days and we will update you as soon as we know more.

We did however come across a few dingy skippers and a few grizzled skippers – they were pretty quick and I had trouble keeping my eyes on them!

We even had our own pretend Large Blue. Sarah kindly pretended to be one (She was wearing the most blue clothing today).

Helping to explain how to walk a transect route correctly.

Helping to explain how to walk a transect route correctly.

Thanks to all who got involved with today’s training day. A special thanks to David Simcox, Sarah Meredith, Butterfly conservation and Somerset Wildlife Trust.

Hayley – Ranger for Mendip and Polden Hills

2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 12,000 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 20 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

Thanks to all that visit the blog thoughout the flight season and through the year, it is great to see that such a small butterfly can make such a big impression.

Watch this space for the start of the new season, we will be recruiting for the new Large Blue Ranger very soon…

Hayley – Ranger for East Somerset

Preparing for the Large Blue Flight Season

Here in Somerset Countryside, we have been busy beavering away, getting ready for the flight season of the Large Blue. A Large Blue Ranger has been appointed, and will start at the end of May. The Dexters (Cows) are on the hill, busy munching away on the grass so make it nice and short for the ants.  We plan to be at Collard Hill tomorrow as the gate has broke – allowing cows to wander where they like across the site. The grazing however has to be quite selective, ideally, the steep slope on the hill being grazed shorter than the top field. The volunteers and rangers will be there fixing the gate and stile. Its all systems go here to make sure everything is ok for when the butterfly hatches. Fingers crossed we have just as successsful year as 2011.

Hayley- Ranger

End of season review and winter work

Hi Rob here with an update on what is happening at Collard over the winter.

Once a year, in the quiet season, when the caterpillars are comfortably resting in their ant nests and life is calm on the slopes, all those involved in managing Collard Hill have a get together to mull over what has worked well for butterflies, for visitors and for the site generally. This usually happens in November when the weather is at its most windswept and wet. This year was no exception although we did think that perhaps this was the slope laying on a nostalgia experience for Christine as this was a not unfamiliar scene during her six weeks here in June.

Matthew Oates, National Trust butterfly guru, receives a friendly pony nibble

It was great to all meet up again and review the summer. We are clearly all delighted with how the large blue has fared at Collard. With 40,000 eggs, this site is now probably in the top three in the world for large blues. Christine has written a fantastic report on the season and this can be seen by clicking here or the tab above.

The advisors! - Christine Tansey, Robert Holden, Hayley Dorrington, Matthew Oates and Dave Simcox

But we must not rest on our laurels. The countryside is a dynamic place with nature always changing. As a major part of the wildlife value at Collard Hill comes from the mix of limestone grassland dotted with a scrub mosaic there is always work to do to make sure the scrub doesnt take-over from the grass.

We have planned out the habitat work for the winter and we will be working with volunteer groups from the National Trust and Butterfly Conservation as well as conservation contractors to push back the gorse, bramble and thorn. This work is starting this week and will continue through to February.

Collard Hill 2011 – How did the butterflies do?!

2011 has been a strange year with warm, very dry weather in April and May followed by a wet and windy June. These do not make ideal conditions for Large blue butterflies and can be quite devastating for small populations particularly when grazing has been either too light or too heavy.

Thankfully, the National Trust team, in partnership with their graziers, have managed Collard perfectly throughout the last year and their efforts have more than mitigated against the negative effects of the weather. In 2010 the Collard egg estimate was 30,579 and I’m delighted to announce that this year’s egg population has increased to 39,602 meaning that nearly 1600 adult butterflies flew on the site this year.

I believe that this number could have been much larger if the more exposed parts of the site had not been adversely affected by both the Spring drought and the high winds during the flight period. Over the last few years the careful management of the scrub has provided much larger areas which are now afforded shelter and this year that has paid dividends.

Over the winter we will look at how we can maintain the site management and, if possible, increase the breeding area to further ensure that the Large blue butterfly continues to thrive on this wonderful site.

I would like to congratulate Christine Tansey who was superb at welcoming visitors, answering their many questions, helping them to see the butterfly and for writing a highly informative blog.

Finally, I would like to thank all the visitors to the site for their enthusiasm, joy at seeing this remarkable butterfly and their numerous appreciative comments. Personally, I am already looking forward to next year.

David Simcox

Egg surveys were carried out by Jeremy Thomas (Oxford University), Sarah Meredith (National Trust and Oxford University) and David Simcox (Butterfly Conservation and Centre for Ecology and Hydrology).

Hi all, Rob Holden here

Well, amazingly the season has been and gone already. It arrives in a blur of excitement, hope and a certain trepidation and it passes in a blur of blue, and this year quite a windswept blur it was.

Our huge thanks go to Christine for all the hard work and enthusiasm she put into her time with us. Her knowledge and enjoyment of being a part of the large blue butterfly project was appreciated by the many hundreds of visitors to the hill and of course the 7,000 odd visits to this blog. Not to mention the team of staff and volunteers based on the hill. Christine has now moved on to another butterfly research project in another corner of the country but is still helping us by finishing off the data input and report writing – keep up the good work Christine!

We took down all the signs and information boards and rope etc. this week, which is always a sad moment, but we are comforted by the fact that so many people visited and saw the butterflies and enjoyed the stunning views from Collard Hill and the great array of downland flora.

Paul Harvey putting up a sign announcing the end of the season


And finally - the large blue welcoming sign gets put away for another year!

In fact we had more visitors this year than any previous years. And crucially, I am pleased to say that the preliminary figures suggest it will have been another record-breaking year for the numbers of large blue butterflies. Thanks to the hours and hours put in by David Simcox, Sarah Meredith and Jeremy Thomas combing the hill for pin-sized blue-tinged white eggs we are in  a position to provide a reliable guide to the butterfly numbers. Full details will be  released later in the year but the omens are promising.

This potentially record-breaking flight season was , as many veterans of the hill this year can attest, in the face of decidedly mixed weather. Indeed, butterfly numbers have increased on Collard every year since 2005 despite periods of very bad weather most notably in 2007 and 2008. So Britain’s rarest butterfly is perhaps more resilient than it is sometimes given credit for.

Another first this year was the length of the flight season. It began we believe on 25 May – fully one week earlier than the previous earliest sighting at Collard, and then continued until last Sunday when one final butterfly was seen by David Simcox. This bumps the flight period up from the previous maximum of 33 days to 45 days.

We will continue to post details of our work on the hill over the coming months, and announce more news about egg and butterfly numbers when we have them, so do pop back to the blog from time to time.

To round off here are the last photos that have been sent in by visitor. Thanks to all who have taken the time to e-mail such fantastic images and share them with us all.


A continental visitor - Painted Lady by Jim Archer

A Large Blue sheltering as so often they had to! by Kieren Allinson

Great view of a large blue by Paul Foster


Courtship on the radio

Hi all, Rob here,

For large blue butterfly fans, radio 4 has had two treats this week.

Firstly, as already mentioned by Christine, you can hear a large blue “blues” song, taken form the ant’s perspective!, featured on ramblings

Also, our own Matthew Oates appeared on Saving Species to talk with Brett Westwood about the flight of denim across Collard! or the courtship of the large blue butterfly

As Matthew says on the programme we have only ten or so days left of the season before numbers start to fall away, going by past years.