National Garden Butterfly Survey 2022 Starts Now

Butterfly Conservation Ireland members and members of the public are invited to participate in Butterfly Conservation Ireland’s garden survey.  If you have been involved up to now, we’d love you to continue. The survey period runs from March to November inclusive. The survey form is available as a download from (see also below) and by post on request. The form asks you to record the first date each butterfly listed on the form was first recorded in their garden in each of the following three-month periods: March-May, June-August, and September-November. In a final column, the highest number of each butterfly species seen and the peak abundance date is given.

Finally, you are asked to indicate which of the following attractants are provided in their gardens: Buddleia, butterfly nectar plants other than Buddleia and larval food plants. Twenty butterflies are listed for recording. All Ireland’s butterflies can be seen by clicking on Gallery. Hover over each image for the species name.


At the end of the year, a report is made that comments on the flight season, outlines the status of these butterflies in gardens, offers interpretations and comments on the findings. The report concludes by urging conservation and involvement in recording garden butterflies. Last year’s report can be found in the Annual Report under Garden Survey Report:

Butterfly Conservation Ireland Annual Report 2021

The garden butterfly recording season begins in March. March 2022 has been cool, with sunshine and strong wind on some days and cloudy with heavy rain on others. We are not having an early season this year, unlike 2019 when the butterfly flight season began in earnest in mid-February, the records for which you can see here:

Spring Butterflies in the Garden

The second half of March is usually when we begin to see our butterflies and moths take flight, starting, in the case of butterflies with the four species that pass the winter in the adult stage: Brimstone, Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock and Comma. This quartet is gradually becoming a quintet with the growing number of Red Admiral records early in the year. The Red Admiral might be passing the winter in Ireland mainly in the immature stages (egg, larva, and pupa) but adults have been found too, with these probably comprising long-lived over-winterers, arrivals from overseas using mild January weather to reach us, or home-grown newly emerged adults. We know that we are seeing breeding during the winter in the Red Admiral, while the faded condition of adults found early in the year suggests migrant or over-wintering butterflies.

If your garden is near the coast, especially the east and south coast, it is worth keeping an eye on your nettles for Red Admirals, even during the ‘off-season’ for butterflies, from November to February. Three decades ago, butterflies were very unlikely to be seen flying outdoors during winter. While this remains the case for most areas, especially inland, it is changing, probably because more people are looking out for butterflies and the climate is warming.

This is where the garden survey can help. Your garden adjoins your house so checking on how life is going on there is easy, even during winter and early spring. Pay heed to minutiae. A close inspection of the upper surface of a young, tender nettle leaf may reveal a green, ribbed, barrel-shaped Red Admiral or Comma butterfly egg. A perusal of ivy berries may register a Holly Blue caterpillar, even in December/January. Common Ivy growing on a south-facing wall can expedite the development of a Holly Blue caterpillar, so the beautiful adult may be seen basking in the spring sunshine on shiny ivy leaves in early March. Turn over a late turnip or cabbage leaf in December/January to see if a slow-growing Small White caterpillar is present. Check beneath sills to look for the Small and Large White pupae.

The onset of warmer, sunnier spring weather makes butterfly watching easier. Suburban and rural gardeners growing holly and ivy can expect first-generation Holly Blues from later in March to May/early June. Gardeners growing Cuckoo Flower, Jack-by-the-hedge/Garlic Mustard or Honesty may get Orange-tip, while nettle growers may be visited by the Red Admiral, Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock, and even, if lucky, by the Comma.

Small White and Large White butterflies will be around too although these are more abundant in gardens and elsewhere in summer. The Speckled Wood is unique among our species in passing the winter either in the larva or pupa stage, and those that over-wintered as a pupa will be the earliest of their kind to fly, so gardens with native hedges and bordering grasses may see this lovely cream-dappled chocolate brown butterfly dancing around newly unfurled shrubbery.

Keep your eyes open for your garden butterflies and continue to record them for our garden survey. If you are not doing the survey, please join in! It’s a recording scheme available to all! The more, the better!

Here is the Garden Survey recording form:

National Garden Butterfly Survey

Best wishes to all butterfly gardeners!

Butterfly Conservation Ireland

A spring-generation female Holly Blue, from a garden in Clontarf, Dublin, about to lay an egg on the unopened flowers of a dogwood. J. Harding

Everything is Connected to Everything Else

The announcement on 6th March 2022 of a meeting between the Minister for Agriculture, Charlie McConalogue and farming groups to take place on Tuesday 8th March to discuss food and animal feed security in the light of the ongoing war in Ukraine carries reminders of measures taken to feed the population of Éire during The Emergency, as World War II was known in southern Ireland during the years 1939-1945.

As such the Minister’s call has created a stir, adding foreboding to the general stress people are experiencing to see the war in Ukraine with its destruction and exodus of three million Ukrainians. President Vladimir Putin’s plan to achieve his objectives with minimal Ukrainian resistance and tokenistic responses from the western countries has not succeeded, and there may be a prolonged military conflict and a lengthy period of heightened international tensions. For everyone’s sake, let us hope this is not the case.

The implications for food production are rightly of concern to the Minister for Agriculture. Ukraine and southern Russia are the great wheat-growing areas in Europe. Without this wheat, we have shortages. Wheat is used for many foods, such as bread, pasta, breakfast cereals and as fillers in a range of foods. Wheat is used by industry to produce starch, paste, malt, dextrose, gluten, alcohol, vinegar and other products.

The financial sanctions applied against Russia may affect Russian wheat production by impacting commodities markets, with supply implications for Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. Food shortages in the latter two regions are likely to spark hunger, mass migration and political instability.

Because over 20% of the fertiliser used in Ireland comes from Russia, we are likely to see fertilisers rise in price. This will create the dual impacts of having to grow more wheat with increased applications of more expensive fertiliser. The connectedness of international trade means that events like the Russian attack on Ukraine and the international responses to the war will reverberate around the globe.

It is hard to see how wheat production in Ireland can be increased sufficiently, or that wheat quality can be raised. According to the Central Statistics Office (CSO), 393,000 tonnes of wheat was produced in 2020, down 38% on 2019. The area sown decreased by 16,500 hectares (-26%) and the yield decreased by 16.5%. Ireland is heavily reliant on imported grain. According to the data site, Ireland imported 2.12 million tonnes of cereals in 2020.

Many farmers lack the equipment and experience to grow cereals, and wet soils do not favour cereal crops, especially wheat. Fertilisers, already expensive will be more expensive with shortages and rising oil and gas prices, and all this while we are trying to reduce fertiliser inputs to reduce atmospheric, soil and water pollution associated with fertiliser use. Certain concentrations of fertiliser are toxic to insects, including butterflies.

In short, this war is a human nightmare and may become an environmental disaster.  It exemplifies the oft-quoted maxim, “Everything is connected to everything else.” Our response to the challenges posed by this conflict may mitigate some negative effects, and we suggest one way to minimise the impact on Ireland’s environment.

As a conservation organisation, we want the best outcomes for our environment and all living things. One simple step to mitigate the impact of any increase in land used for grain crops and any increase in the area where fertiliser is applied is to retain native hedgerows and maintain an extended field margin unplanted with crops and untreated with chemicals, adjoining hedgerows. These areas are vital for several animal groups and contain vital plant habitats.

Hedges are especially important for butterflies and moths. 65% of Irish butterflies use hedges. Some use hedgerow trees as breeding plants, some use grasses and flowers growing on the warm margins for breeding. In addition, many adult butterflies use hedges as territory, mating stations, nectar sources, flight paths, dispersal routes and hibernation sites. The Brimstone butterfly uses hedgerows for all these reasons, while the Brown Hairstreak uses hedges for breeding, meeting and mating, feeding and as a flight path.

The Brown Hairstreak relies on hedgerows and adjoining biodiverse grassland. Photo J. Harding

A study by Merckx et al. (2012) found the hedgerow trees and extended width margins locally increased the number of larger moth species (also known as macro-moths) but not abundance. Interestingly, they found that species richness and abundance was not affected by intensive farming, measured by the amount of arable land in the landscape. Both mobile and less mobile larger moths did better when extended width margins and hedgerow trees were present. The benefits of trees in the hedgerow were especially strong for tree-feeding species. Increasing the density of hedgerow trees was recommended to lessen the effects of agricultural intensification. The study underlined the value of hedgerow trees, claiming “a disproportionate effect on ecosystem functioning given the small area occupied by any individual tree”.

The study also found a link between increased macro moth populations and ecosystem functioning (in other words, the higher moth abundance and species richness improve biological community functioning). Why is this? Moths are associated with higher pollinator success, which benefits crops and animals, and moths are an important prey base for a range of species.

A study by Coulthard et al. (2016) showed that hedges are very important flight paths for moths. 68% of moths in the study were observed at 1m from the hedge and of these 69% were moving parallel to the hedge. Hedges are believed to provide the sheltered corridors needed by flying insects in our generally open, farmed landscapes.

These studies highlight how crucial hedgerows and hedgerow trees are for butterflies, moths and biodiversity generally. It is crucial that hedges are protected and correctly managed. A badly managed hedgerow can be disastrous for some of our rarer species. For example, many species that breed on hedges lay eggs on the newest growth. Unfortunately, it is this outer part of the hedge that is removed by cutting. The Brown Hairstreak butterfly is extremely vulnerable for this reason, and Berwearts and Merckx (2010) report studies that found that annual mechanical cutting of hedges removes 80-99% of Brown Hairstreak eggs. A rotational cutting system that involves cutting one-third of the hedgerows in an area each winter resulted in the butterfly’s longer-term survival.

Our native hedges are crucial to our landscapes, giving our countryside character, building a sense of place, and hosting much biodiversity. The poet William Wordsworth described the hedgerows as “Little lines of sportive wood run wild.” Our hedgerows need to be valued, respected and maintained if the biodiversity remaining on farmland is to be preserved.

With their bird song, butterflies and flowers, hedges evoke a joyful atmosphere, and the peace we can all do with.

Hedgerows consisting of native trees, shrubs and herbs are a vital landscape feature and crucial for biodiversity in modern farmed landscapes. Photo J. Harding


Central Statistics Office 2020, Area, Yield and Production of Crops, Central Statistics Office,  Accessed 06/03/2021,

Coulthard, E., McCollin, D. & Littlemore, J. 2016, “The use of hedgerows as flight paths by moths in intensive farmland landscapes”, Journal of insect conservation, vol. 20, no. 2, pp. 345-350.

Cross, J. (2012) Ireland’s Woodland Heritage A Guide to Ireland’s Native Woodlands National Parks and Wildlife Service, Dublin. 2020, Ireland – Wheat imports quantity, Accessed 06/03/2021,,255%2C103%20thousand%20tonnes%20in%202020.

Mag Raollaigh, J., Minister to discuss food security with farming groups in light of Ukraine conflict Accessed 06/03/2021

Lysaght, L., Marnell, F., National Biodiversity Data Centre (Ireland) & Global Biodiversity Information Facility 2016, Atlas of mammals in Ireland, 2010-2015, National Biodiversity Data Centre, Carriganore, Waterford;Place of publication not identified;.

MERCKX, T. & BERWAERTS, K. 2010, “What type of hedgerows do Brown hairstreak (Thecla betulae L.) butterflies prefer? Implications for European agricultural landscape conservation”, Insect conservation and diversity, vol. 3, no. 3, pp. 194-204.

Merckx, T., Marini, L., Feber, R.E., Macdonald, D.W., Kleijn, D. & Sveriges lantbruksuniversitet 2012, “Hedgerow trees and extended-width field margins enhance macro-moth diversity: implications for management”, The Journal of applied ecology, vol. 49, no. 6, pp. 1396-1404.

Sullivan, M.J.P., Pearce‐Higgins, J.W., Newson, S.E., Scholefield, P., Brereton, T., Oliver, T.H. & McKenzie, A. 2017, “A national‐scale model of linear features improves predictions of farmland biodiversity”, The Journal of applied ecology, vol. 54, no. 6, pp. 1776-1784.

This article was edited on March 20th 2022 to update the refugee figure which stood at 3 million on March 20th.

Lullybeg Management Day 26th February

After two weather-related postponements, we finally met at Lullybeg to work on a section of the southern section of the reserve.  It was a grey-skied day suitably supported by a stiff chilling breeze but our work site provided shelter from its effects.

We choose an area that contains Common Dog-violet, Devil’s-bit Scabious, Purple Moor-grass, and various mosses. The area is used by the Dark Green Fritillary and Marsh Fritillary for breeding and we caught our first sighting of Marsh Fritillary larvae this year, on a scabious leaf that faces south. This gave our work added impetus because birch saplings were working their way into this breeding area.

We uprooted hundreds of birch saplings and some young willow, carefully replanting any herbs disturbed by our work. There is something strangely satisfying, even during winter, at seeing the pile of saplings rise and the grassland become free of shading scrub.

We took a break for lunch, sheltering near our vehicles and catching up with each others’ news. Our prandial discourse was enlivened by a fierce altercation between two large mink, squealing and scrapping in the tall grasses. One ran out of cover so we got a full view of this beautiful yet invasive and destructive predator.

We resumed our work and cleared the work zone. We look forward to seeing how our butterflies respond in the coming months.

Thanks to all those who attended and to all our members and supporters.

Marsh Fritillary larvae on our work area. Photo J. Harding
Cleared grassland at Lullybeg. Photo J. Harding