Farewell

I have watched the crops grow golden, the Large Blues come and go and the sun rising and falling in Somerset since the 30th of May. What a wonderful experience it has been, but all good things must come to an end. Therefore, it is time to say goodbye to Collard Hill and all of it’s inhabitants. A new chapter of adventure awaits me.

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Here are a few images I have taken over the course of my time on Collard Hill which I did not manage to put on the blog posts:

Goodluck to the 2017 Large Blue Butterfly Volunteer Ranger. May the Large Blues be another success in your presence!

Abbi

Flutterbys

Today, they just didn’t want to settle it seemed and when they did they had disappeared. Over the course of today, I believe I saw around 7 individuals flying around the more sheltered parts of the site, due to a high Southerly breeze.

I trust the experts when they say the Large Blues will still be around for the weekend and for next week. So there is still a good chance of seeing one this year! Plus, the view is spectacular from Collard Hill, so is definitely worth the trip down anyway.

Collard Hill

Flag to show Information and Visitor Comment Books

I managed to photograph a Red Admiral on site today – the first sighting this year, amongst other butterflies and invertebrates today:

Gatekeeper

Gatekeeper

Harvestmen

Harvestman

Marbled White

Marbled White

Meadow Brown

Meadow Brown

Red Admiral

Red Admiral

Ringlet

Ringlet

We also have many types of thistle on site, but I couldn’t figure out which this could be, and thought it best to ask yourselves! [update: It is not a thistle, it is Teasel! That’s why I couldn’t find it in the thistle section of my identification guide!]

Any suggestions, as always, are welcome.

Abbi

Wet & Windy Weather

When stepping foot on site, at 9am this morning, there were already a few keen, excited and enthusiastic visitors searching for Large Blues. (One of them being Martin, who I’d like to thank for pointing me in the direction of the well trained Ringlets!)

 

Collard Hill today saw most of the many forms of British weather; sun, rain, gales, thunder, cloud and blue sky. This unfortunately proved difficult to conduct a full transect for the day. However, in the morning the average visitor saw around 6 Large Blues on the Eastern Glade and I managed to record 14 Large Blues across the Eastern side of the site in just half an hour – before the thundery downpour soaked me through and through. (All good fun!)

Passingby thunderstorm

I also managed to photographs these delights, but wasn’t sure if I had identified them properly;

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Plus, here are some visitor photos from around the YHA carpark and on Collard Hill itself:

Thank you to visitors sending in their images to us, they really are lovely to see!
Abbi

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

2014 flight season meeting

Its been a hive of activity recently in the rangers office, getting ready for season 2014. We are recruiting for this years large blue volunteer ranger (more to come about that later), and yesterday we had a meeting over at Collard. Primarily, it was to look at last years season; the highlights and the lowlights. We also looked at the season to come and what improvments can me made. There were various people in the meeting (key people from butterfly conservation, our grazier for the site, Pat Burroughs, consultants from the National Trust, (Specialists in wildlife conservation) David Simcox and Sarah Meredith.) It was a great oppertunity to chat to all the specialists whilst we were at Collard.

2014 pre flight season meeting

The ground conditions at Collard Hill are improving. (If you have been there recently, you will understand how wet and rutted some of the ground has become.)The cattle and ponies were taken off the hill when it became really wet to prevent any futher poaching. After yesterdays meeting, it was decided that the gate could be opened again to let the grass munchers through to the hill. This will help in several ways:

The dexters (cattle) will walk around the site, hopefully flattening some of the ruttier areas, making it easier for us to walk on.

Dexters are very happy to munch on newly shooting bramble so all the work that we did this winter (clearing bramble), as the new shoots grow, they will be nibbled off.

They also like newly shooting thistles (the ponies have learnt to pull them out of the ground whilst they are young, turn them around, then swallow them backwards so they dont get too prickled!) We are aware that we have the rarer thistle (wooly thistle), We are managing the grazing in a sustainable way to keep a stable population of this type of thistle.

The grass is just starting to grow so nibbling it whilst its young will help us futher in the season.

Of course, weather conditions can change everything and as we are expecting a little rain at the end of the week. We are keeping a close eye on ground conditions and will move cattle back across if needs be.

Mobile grass munchers

Finally, as I said at the start of this post, we are recruiting for the 2014’s large blue volunteer ranger. We are looking for an enthusiastic conservationist, confident in communication and an active outdoor type. You will be based at Collard Hill, near Glastonbury, monitoring the Large Blue butterfly and co-ordinating visitor engagment for a 6 week project from 2nd June – 13th July. For details, phone 01934 844518 or email the head ranger at: ian.clemmett@nationaltrust.org.uk. The closing date for applications is 28th March.

2013 – An Eventful but Successful Year for the Large Blue at Collard Hill

Farmers and conservationist alike must adapt quickly to the extreme weather events that we have regularly experienced over the last ten years.

At the time of writing this article (February 2014), the Somerset levels, which can be clearly seen from Collard Hill, resemble an inland sea, the army have been deployed to help the emergency services rescue local residents from their houses, politicians are donning waders for photo-shoots and everyone seems to have a theory as to who should shoulder the blame.

A quick search on the Met Office website confirms that we are indeed in unchartered waters:

Spring 2012     – drought with hosepipe bans

Summer 2012  – wettest summer for 100 years

Autumn 2012  – wettest Autumn since records began

Spring 2013     – coldest for 50 years

Summer 2013  – 7th hottest and 16th driest since records began

January 2014   – wettest January since records began

The Large blue butterfly, like all other wildlife, must negotiate a way through this meteorological hiatus and adapt accordingly, or perish! In 2012 the population increased for the eighth year in a row and nearly 50,000 eggs were laid on Collard Hill. However, detailed scientific research undertaken by Oxford University and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology has shown that Myrmica ants do not prosper during cold springs which prevent them from foraging and collecting food to feed their grubs, which are the staple diet of the Large blue caterpillar. In a particularly long cold spring, like in 2013, the ants begin to starve and will eat their own grubs and any caterpillars that are living in their nest!

I have been fortunate to be working on a piece of research with Sarah Meredith (funded by Oxford University and The People’s Trust for endangered Species), exploring the synchronicity between the flowering of Wild thyme and the emergence of the Large blue. Because the butterfly will only lay its eggs on young tight flower-buds, it is vital that they emerge when the majority of the flowers are in the right condition. For the last three years Sarah has been monitoring the flowering phenology of the Thyme on Collard every 4 or 5 days between Mid May and the end of July and carrying out butterfly transects at the same time.

Since the early 2000s Large blues have emerged on Collard during the last week of May but in 2013 the first was seen on 14th of June, over two weeks late. Encouragingly the Thyme was also late to flower so the synchronicity between food-plant and butterfly was maintained. The cold spring did have a major impact on the size of the Large blue population and egg surveys revealed that the number of eggs laid on the site was just over 24,000, about half of 2012’s total. This trend was replicated across all monitored populations in Somerset and, although disappointing, is what happens to populations under adverse climatic conditions. Thankfully, because the management at Collard has been so good, a 50% drop in a large population is not catastrophic and I fully expect Large blues to be flying in good numbers in 2014.

The National Trust Rangers, Hayley Dorrington and Ian Clemett, together with Pat Burroughs the grazier had delivered perfect grazing on the site and once again organized signage and volunteer wardens to welcome the hundreds of visitors who came to see the butterfly. The site has been improved by excellent scrub management, carried out by NT staff and contractors, and partially funded by SITA under the Butterfly Conservation led project Expanding the Large Blue Landscape in the Polden Hills. Additional scrub was cleared by the generous efforts of volunteers recruited and encouraged by Butterfly Conservation’s Caroline Kelly and Rachel Jones. It is the combined efforts of all these people that have ensured that the prospects for Large blues on Collard in June 2014 are good.

Finally I must pay tribute to the late Barry Hillier who recently passed away. Barry volunteered for the National Trust and put in a huge amount of effort and will be remembered by many as one of the volunteers who helped visitors to Collard to see the Large blue and to understand their remarkable ecology. I will miss his kindness, knowledge and great sense of humour.

By David Simcox

 

 

 

 

 

 

The mist is rolling in over Collard Hill as well as my computer brain.

Well its pretty grim out there today weather wise so I thought I would take the opportunity to give you an update as to where things are. I was chatting to Caroline (Butterfly conservation) the other day and we are just confirming dates for some scrub management on Collard Hill as well as doing some Thyme planting on Walton Hill with Somerset Wildlife Trust and the Clarks Trust. Once these dates are confirmed, I will put them on the blog.

During the quieter months at Collard, as well as looking after the other sites; I will be working on the blog, making sure everything will be up to date for the 2014 season. I am at the moment learning all about Widgets?? I thought you get them in cans of beer, oh how I am wrong…

Anyway, things are still really busy here in East Somerset and I will update you with things when we get some more news.

Meadow Browns, Brown Argus and a top tip from a visitor

A cloudy start to the day meant very little was flying first thing this morning. By dinner the cloud had lifted and the sun started to shine (a bit anyway). Jim was at Collard Hill today and a transect in the afternoon found Meadow Browns/ Small Heaths/ Speckled Woods/ Common Blues and a Brown Argus.

Quite a number of visitors enjoying the afternoon sunshine and views but unfortunately, still no Large Blues!

On a more positive note, the orchids within the meadow over at Ivythorn are really starting to look great so if you are going to be visiting Collard any time soon, here is some advise from Geoff who visited Ivythorn a few days ago.

“Most visitors to Collard Hill will park in the NT car park at Ivythorn Hill, close to the youth hostel. From there they will follow the blue-topped posts to the dangerous Marshalls Elm crossroads and then continue to follow the posts up on to Collard Hill. When walking back from Collard Hill to the car park, there is an alternative footpath that passes through a flower meadow full of orchids, on the southern side of the road.
Follow the blue-topped posts down Collard Hill to the Marshalls Elm crossroads.  Shortly after crossing this dangerous road there is a tarmac lane on the left and almost immediately beyond this lane there is a footpath on the left. Follow this footpath through woodland and it soon opens up into a flower meadow with many species of orchid. At present the butterfly orchids are at their peak and the coloured orchids are starting to flower. Then continue along the path through more woodland and the path emerges directly opposite the car park.”
Taken by Geoff Bathe

Taken by Geoff Bathe

Thanks for this top bit of information Geoff!

If anyone is visiting Collard Hill and would like to send photos/ get into contact then please email Collard.hill@gmail.com

We will do our best to get as many photos on this blog that you have taken

Hayley- Ranger

6.6.13. Still no large ones

Hi everyone, this is my first post as the Large Blue Ranger for 2013 having started at the beginning of this gloriously sunny week, and today was no exception with not a cloud in the sky. Unfortunately i can’t report the news we’ve all been waiting for just yet. I had a good look at the site today but the Large Blue has yet to appear, there were however a good number of Common Blues, Small Heaths and a couple of Speckled Woods.

The forecast looks good for the rest of the week so there’s still a chance of it making an appearance in this lovely weather.

Also, if you are on the site don’t be afraid to stop for a chat and let me know what you’ve seen!

– Steve Clare, Large Blue Ranger 2013

 

 

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