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 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

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.

New short video just released

Hi all, Rob here.

We are very pleased to publish today a new video that introduces the background to the large blue reintroduction project and our work at Collard Hill. There are some great shots of an egg laying female in action and a useful section on how to ID the large blue, not to mention some good footage of the wildflower strewn flora of Collard itself.

You have the chance to see our well-known butterfly expert, Matthew Oates, waxing lyrical on the blue, and also see me talking about Collard. This video is also the main news story on the front page of our National Trust web-site

We will leave this video up as a tab on the home page so that it remains available for everyone visiting the blog in the future. We hope you like it.

Wednesday 23th June

Egg Laying Female with open wings - Sarah Meredith June 2010

Evening all,

I went onto the hill with slight trepidation after yesterdays transect results. I was sure in my mind that numbers had really dropped that much but you can never really tell. On arrival I went quickly to inspect the western slope around the gorse patches, this has been a good area early in the mornings, and sure enough I found 3 individuals in quick succession. I then headed to the easter slope and as soon as I hit the path I found another two.

Aaahh I sighed, all is well and the smile crossed my face and stayed!! It was great to be back on site, Collard Hill has a very relaxing feel about it. I am not sure if it is the panoramic views, the wildlife or just the site itself but it is great.

Marbled Whites were flying well from early on, and by 11am when we walked the first transect we recorded 31 individuals. 16 Large Blue’s were recorded and a further 16 were recorded on the 2pm transect. That is the most recorded this year, so I think we are entering the peak on numbers. Most of the individuals are still look fresh without damage or scale loss. It will be interesting to see what numbers do over the next couple of days.

It was very easy today to find egg laying females and track them as they moved across the hill, one female which was discovered by visitors stayed perched on a grass blade for over 2 hours, she was nick-named Lazy Lucy!! She did fly a little but only to a nearby grass blade where she perched again.

Lazy Lucy - Sarah Meredith

The Large Blues’s had their seista around 3pm today, just as I was leaving site at around 5.30pm they were starting to move again, nectaring on Thyme and flying amongst the scrub.

Clustered Bellflower’s are just starting to emerge and Ringlets are being picked up in small numbers. So all is good on the hill at the moment with Large Blue’s flying well and distributed across the site. If you visit I can guarantee you will have a really good day, some one asked if I could stop the wind from blowing so he could get a good photo!! Now I can definitely help you to see the Large Blue and tell you about their ecology and history but some things I just cannot do!! Sorry.

I look forward to seeing you at Collard over the coming days.

Tuesday 22nd June

Heath Fritillary (Haddon Hill) - Sarah Meredith

Evening all,

Today saw me away from the hill (on a day off), I swapped the Large Blue’s for Heath Fritillary’s, the Polden Hills for Exmoor but took the heat with me!! I left Collard Hill and the Large Blue’s in the safe hands of Dudley and Simone, although I was wondering how numbers were doing and whether visitors were getting sightings!

I went to Haddon Hill on the recommendation of many visitors who had either been or were going. Seeing as it was close enough to do in a day I thought why not. It was a species I hadn’t seen before so I was excited about seeing them and see them I did, initially I found a few individuals but then found the stong hold area within the bracken with big patches of Cow Wheat. I saw around 15 – 20 individuals so went away very happy. I had to get my eye in though looking for orange rather than blue!!!

Anyway enough of my day, after a few text messages it sounds like Collard Hill was quieter today on the Large Blue front, the daily transects picked up 9 individuals compared with the 23 yesterday. But this might be due to heat as the afternoon transect might have been in the middle of their siesta!!  Numbers should still be high as we are in the middle of the peak. I will know more tomorrow when I get back onto site.

If you visit Collard Hill over the next few days you will not be disappointed, the Large Blue is flying well over the whole site.