Letting the life back in

Jane Doughty and Robert Donnelly, Butterfly Conservation Ireland members living in County Kilkenny, are renowned for the abundance of butterflies in their amazing garden. Robert counted 124 butterflies in his garden in County Kilkenny on just one day, July 22nd, 2018. Silver-washed Fritillaries are seen regularly in their garden, a true Eden for butterflies. Here Jane describes their conservation journey and their efforts to broaden their commitment to conserving butterflies.

Our story at Little Eden, where, in retirement, we tend two acres of garden, is probably far from unique.

Twenty-five years ago, with just half an acre to manage and being time poor with work requirements, we used insecticides and Glyphosate without conscience. Our lawns were applied with selective weedkiller and had fresh stripes when mowed. Exotic and flora plena plants seemed irresistible and filled the borders.

Slowly and as Robbie would say “we copped on” we began noticing certain plants attracted more insects and if our own honeybee colony was to find nectar, then more suitable planting was necessary. Using commercial sprays was out altogether and so the change began.

Amongst other publications, Robbie had read Discovering Irish Butterflies & Their Habitats (for the life of me I can’t remember the author’s name) and we subsequently realised nectar sources for butterflies were not enough as each requires specific larval food plants. If we were to help the butterfly population and all the threatened living creatures local to our landscape, our response had to be broadened.

First non-native plants were replaced with the indigenous. Later, fortunately, we were able to purchase adjoining old pasture. We planted our boundaries with fruit and berry-bearing wild trees and shrubs. Grasses, nettles, thistles, and brambles were welcome (with management) and nothing now fits the description of ‘weed’.

Hiring a digger, Robbie excavated a generous unlined and spring-fed pond in the clay soil, allowing life to develop naturally in time. With hammocks under an old willow, we are now privileged to be entertained by creatures below, on, and above the waterline. Damsels and dragonflies clatter wings and swallows, house martins, and even bats impress with fantastic aerial displays when drinking and feeding.

Last year we offered excess garden produce on the road outside suggesting donations for Butterfly Conservation Ireland. This year we did the same and our young neighbour, aged 7, kindly provided wonderful images of butterflies for our sign. We have been gladdened by people’s generosity and impressed by the enthusiasm of young wildlife photographer, Sam.

As individuals, we can make only a small contribution to improve our environment which is under immense pressure in Ireland, as well as globally, and we thank those who do more.

Notice of BCI fundraiser
Spreading the native gospel: native wildflowers for sale.
Butterfly photos taken by Sam, aged 7, a budding naturalist and expert photographer. From top left: Silver-washed Fritillary, Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell, Red Admiral.
Thank you to All!



Why is my Buddleia Empty?

It is a stunning, hot summer’s day, and your garden Buddleia, the one you bought to attract butterflies to your garden, is blooming to perfection, and wafting its pungent sweetness onto the still air.

All expectant, you inspect the plant each day but apart from the odd hoverfly and bee, you are not seeing much activity. Where are the butterflies that you were told would flock to feed on Buddleia? Your flowering Marjoram, a nectar-rich native herb, is not doing any better, although it has more bees.

Butterflies can be very contrary. A habitat that is perfect for a particular species just does not have it. All the ingredients are in place; plenty of nectar sources, plenty of caterpillar host-plants, the correct aspect, site size, and location but the butterfly just is not there. Elsewhere, a smaller, apparently less suitable habitat has the species in abundance.

This scenario is especially noted when it comes to habitat specialists known for their highly specific needs and poor powers of dispersal. But butterflies that frequent gardens lack such constraints. These are wide-ranging, mobile species that will occur in a broad range of habitats.

The question remains, where are they?

Timing is key.

All butterflies have a four-stage life cycle. These stages occur at different times of the year, and because it is usually the adult stage we notice, this is the stage you will cater for if you grow nectar-rich flora that blooms at the correct time.

Take the classic garden butterfly, the Small Tortoiseshell. Here is its annual phenology (timing of life cycle stages):

Adult: All year; scarce during the first half of June and second half of August
Egg: April-May, late June-mid-July, scarce in late August
Larva: May-June, mid-July-late August, scarce in September
Pupa: June-early July, August-mid-September, scarce in October.

You will see the adult flies in July and early in August. So why is it absent from my Buddleia at these times?

Here’s why. The priority of the adult Small Tortoiseshell varies depending on certain factors, especially photoperiod (the period of time each day during which an organism receives illumination; day length).

When the day length is long and increasing in May and June, the adult Small Tortoiseshell is focused on reproduction, not on feeding on nectar. Daylight hours are very high in July, although declining slowly, so the adult Small Tortoiseshell is still keen on breeding. Therefore it frequents breeding areas where nettles grow, rather than feeding areas.

If the mid-summer weather is poor and overcast, part of the Small Tortoiseshell population enters a reproductive delay. When this happens, this section of the population visits gardens and other places where nectar is found in order to build fat reserves to prepare to pass the winter as an adult butterfly. When this happens, you will see the butterfly in your garden in July. After over-wintering, it will breed in spring.

This July the Small Tortoiseshell was busy breeding and very few entered a reproductive delay. The offspring of the June and July breeders will  emerge in late August and September, and this generation of Small Tortoiseshells will flock to flower-filled areas. This generation, with rare exceptions, will delay breeding until next spring, and to survive until then they need as much nectar as possible.

I hope that you don’t mind if I throw climate change and weather variability in the mix at this point. Day length is not the only environmental signal that the Small Tortoiseshell responds to. It is highly likely that it responds to signals from its larval host plant too. In hot, very dry summers, like the summer of 2018, days are sunny and daylight hours are long but drought makes the nettles less nutritious and even unsuitable for breeding. It appears that the Small Tortoiseshell is responding to this by canceling its second generation and entering the over-wintering state as early as July.

There are documented examples of this response in St Albans, Hertfordshire, where the butterfly went into early hibernation in some years. In 2017 and 2018, all the Small Tortoiseshells that hibernated in Malcolm Hull’s home were hibernating by July 7th and August 5th, respectively. At Howth, in County Dublin, Mr. Frank Smyth, a careful observer and recorder of butterflies has noted the absence of Small Tortoiseshells at Howth, County Dublin during August and September in some years but their reappearance the following spring. The butterfly may be skipping its second generation at Howth too, and this may occur in other dry east coast locations during dry summers. A skipped second generation might also occur during cold summers. This ability to modify its brood strategy suggests a high level of adaptability, much needed by a widely distributed species in an era of climate change.

Aside from dry, free-draining areas during long, hot summers and cold, overcast, wet summers, we can expect to see Small Tortoiseshells, and their close relations, in our gardens during August and September. This is when you will see the big influxes of butterflies in the garden, and these big occurrences are what give the illusion that summer is never-ending, while in reality, the appearance of butterflies is a clue that winter’s shadow is clouding the horizon. Butterflies know that winter is coming because they can sense the accelerating decline in daylight even if the temperature remains high.

In this way, butterflies remind us of the season’s signals, and of cyclical changes.

Over the next few weeks, you should see plenty of butterflies in your garden if you are giving them nectar-rich flowers. If you are providing flowering Common Ivy, and nettles, you will see even more!

Let us know what you see. Tell us by email at conservation.butterfly@:gmail.com

Let us know:

your first name/s, and surname/s

your contact details (typically an email address)

date of the find,

species found,

the life stage/s found,

numbers seen,

location the butterfly/moth was found (e.g. townland name, site name, county),

six-figure grid reference, including the letter identifying the 100,000-metre grid square in which the location lies (see http://www.gridreference.ie/ or Discovery Series maps)

weather conditions

and any other interesting comments you wish to provide.


John Smith (14/06/2020)

Small White 2, Small Copper 1, Small Blue 14, Small Heath 15 at O254515, Portrane sand dunes, County Dublin. Sunny, light breeze, 18 Celsius.

It will be greatly appreciated if recorders send in their records by listing the butterflies observed in the following order:

Small Skipper, Essex Skipper, Dingy Skipper, Common Swallowtail, Wood White, Cryptic Wood White, Clouded Yellow, Brimstone, Large White, Small White, Green-veined White, Orange-tip, Green Hairstreak, Brown Hairstreak, Purple Hairstreak, Small Copper, Small Blue, Common Blue, Holly Blue, Red Admiral, Painted Lady, Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock, Comma, Pearl-bordered Fritillary, Dark Green Fritillary, Silver-washed Fritillary, Marsh Fritillary, Speckled Wood, Wall Brown, Grayling, Hedge Brown/Gatekeeper, Meadow Brown, Ringlet, Small Heath, Large Heath, Monarch.

If you like, you can take part in our Garden Butterfly Survey. It’s easy to do and the form is available here: https://butterflyconservation.ie/wp/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/National-Garden-Butterfly-Survey.pdf

Here are some butterflies you might see in the next 6 weeks. The white butterflies shown in the previous post will also feature. Enjoy!

Peacock butterflies will be found in gardens especially from mid-August to early September. J. Harding
Holly Blue, male, basking on ivy. Look out for it now. J. Harding
Small Copper, female. This species is in my garden now. Photo J. Harding
Small Tortoiseshells can fly well into November. It occurs in the largest numbers, typically, during September. Photo J.Harding
The Comma butterfly. Look for now but especially later in September and well into October-check flowering ivy and over-ripe fruit. Photo J.Harding
Painted Lady butterflies will be found in flower-rich gardens in late summer, especially near the south coast, J. Harding
Red Admirals will usually visit in September and into October. Check flowering ivy and over-ripe fruit. J.Harding





Mighty Whites

The recent hot, sunny, dry spell (a very hot spell in an Irish context) with easterly breezes has coincided with the appearance of an abundance of Large Whites and Small Whites, probably a mixture of native-born and immigrant butterflies. We are also experiencing a good-sized emergence of Green-veined White butterflies and all three species can be found flying together. Where it occurs, the Brimstone mixes with the other white species, making for much confusion.

How do we separate these white butterflies?

The Green-veined White is a widespread species and is not known as a migrant. It is especially common in damp and wet grassland and along damp hedges and streams. It is similar in size to the Small White (wingspan is c. 40-52 mm in the Green-veined White, c.38-57mm in the Small White, according to Newland et al. (2015)), and will often occur with this species in gardens, where the Small White and Large White breed on Nasturtium and brassicas. When seen in flight these two are very hard to separate.

The male of both species has one spot on the upper side of the forewing, while the female of both species has two spots on the upper side of the forewing. However, when settled, the Green-veined White shows a dusting of dark scales along the veins on the upper sides and undersides of the wings. A more subtle change is the ground colour of the upper sides of the wings. The Small White has a milkier appearance while the Green-veined white is a clearer, brighter white, especially in the male.

Green-veined Whites: male on the left, female on the right. J. Harding
Green-veined White showing distinct ‘vein’ markings on the hindwing underside. This is the only Irish white with these markings. J. Harding
Small White, female on Sow Thistle. Note the milkier white on the wings. J. Harding
Small White, male; note it has one forewing spot, unlike two in the female. J. Harding

The Large White is appreciably larger than the Small and Green-veined Whites (Newland et al. (2015) give a wingspan of 58mm in the male and 63 mm in the female but much larger specimens are very common; a female I measured recently had a wingspan of 72mm) but smaller specimens of the Large White also occur. In addition, a butterfly in flight seen on its own will present identification difficulties. When settled, identification is simple especially when the wings are held open. The Large White, in both sexes, has a much more extensive black wing-tip that extends much further along the outer and inner edges of the forewing than in the Small White.

Large White, female. Note that she has two forewing spots on her upper sides, like the female Small White and Green-veined White but the Large White shows far more pronounced wing-tips than the latter two species. J. Harding
The male Large White has no forewing spots on its upper sides but it does have two forewing spots on the forewing underside. Its upper sides are clear white with a forewing tip that is more extensive than in its smaller white relatives.

There may be confusion between Large and Small White males when these are settled with closed wings. Here are photos of both.

Small White male showing one black spot on the forewing underside. There is another black spot just below the visible spot, but this is hidden behind the hindwing. J. Harding
Here is a Large White showing the prominent forewing spot on the underside of the forewing. There is another black spot just below the visible spot, but this is hidden behind the hindwing. J. Harding

The separation features in the settled Large and Small White, apart from the size of these butterflies, lies in the larger size and squarer appearance of the spot in the Large White.  A further separation feature is that the yellow costa (outer margin) on the hindwing extends further along the costa in the Large White.

Another white flying now, the Brimstone, can be confused with the Large White, being similar in size and overall colour, especially when seen in flight in sunny conditions. However, it is only the female Brimstone that can be confused with the Large White because the male Brimstone, true to its name, is sulphur-yellow but the female is a pale greenish-white.

Unlike the Large White, the Brimstone almost always settles with closed wings. Furthermore, she has no black markings on her wings and has a pointed apex on the forewing. She also has dull red markings on the thorax and the base of the hindwing and dull red antennae. The Brimstone is much rarer than the other whites but all whites can be found in areas occupied by the Brimstone.

Female Brimstone. Note the brown spot on the forewing and hindwing, the hook on the forewing and hindwing, and the more prominent leaf vein markings. J. Harding

The male Brimstone, being yellow, is not a confusion risk, but we cannot resist showing you a photo of this handsome butterfly.

Male Brimstone showing bright yellow wings. J. Harding

July Provision

The current very hot weather is welcome in some ways. Heat is very beneficial for many adult butterflies although you might not think so from the way they disappear when it is very hot. They retreat to cover during extreme heat to avoid overheating and death.  Drought (15 days with a combined total of <0·02 mm of rain with each day on top of this being counted as an extra day of drought) which can occur during prolonged extreme heat in Ireland is beneficial for the butterfly eggs of some species but not for adult butterflies and not for the larval stage of multi-brooded species during their second larval stage. However, drought is not regarded as having a very significant impact on butterfly species although butterflies may be more sensitive to more extreme drought conditions than those defined above.  However useful heat may be in summer, extreme heat in winter has proved harmful to some species.

A study by McDermott Long et al. 2017  that looked at the effect of extreme climate events concluded that butterflies could potentially benefit from increasing temperatures in the UK (and Ireland) in the future, but warmer and wetter winters and increases in severe weather events that have also been predicted (Defra 2009; Jenkins et al. 2009) could be detrimental to the survival of many of its butterfly species, and further research is needed regarding the balance of importance that these variables could have and whether the benefits of warmer summers will be outweighed by the harmful winter effects. Based on the results of this study, future conservation efforts hoping to mitigate against extreme climate events in the future should focus their efforts on the adult and overwintering life stages of our butterflies.

The best way to do this is to ensure that habitats are protected on a landscape scale and this requires very significant changes to the way we live. These changes will impact society, not just on farmers. But change is needed to protect our survival and the survival of our wildlife and habitats.

Changes are being proposed at EU level later in 2021 to address biodiversity loss and climate change and climate change impacts. This includes the EU’s Biodiversity strategy for 2030 (EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030.pdf), which plans to enlarge existing Natura 2000 areas, with strict protection for areas of very high biodiversity and climate value and the EU aims to restore degraded ecosystems by 2030 and manage them sustainably, addressing the key drivers of biodiversity loss.

As part of this plan, the Commission will propose binding nature restoration targets by the end of 2021. The New EU Forest Strategy for 2030 (https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/default/files/communication-new-eu-forest-strategy-2030_with-annex_en.pdf) is part of the EU Biodiversity strategy for 2030 and aims to protect, restore and enlarge EU’s forests to combat climate change, reverse biodiversity loss and ensure resilient and multifunctional forest ecosystems. It is interesting that the document notes that climate change is having damaging impacts especially in areas with mono-specific and even-aged forest stands. This is especially relevant in Ireland, where plantation forestry often consists largely of Sitka Spruce, with many areas simply a Sitka monoculture.

We have one of the highest rates of plantation forestry in the EU and the highest share of forest area dominated by introduced tree species, with large plantations of mainly Sitka spruce – native to North America – making up just over half of our entire forest estate. Other non-natives planted include Norway Spruce, Douglas Fir, Larch, and Common Beech (see https://www.thejournal.ie/spruced-up-pt1-5241271-Oct2020/).

Following a State-led plan in the 1950s and 1960s to plant in what was then seen as marginal land, much of it was planted on the very same peatlands and biodiversity-rich areas where remnants of our ancient native mixed-species forests have been discovered.

The latest data from the Forest Service – which sits under the Department of Agriculture (DAFM) – shows that Ireland’s forest estate is 71.2% conifers and 28.7% broadleaves.

The data highlights the dominance of conifer plantations where plots of trees of the same age are planted, thinned, and generally clear-felled after 30 or 40 years and then replanted.

According to the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), this form of forestry is one of the biggest pressures on EU-protected habitats such as peatlands, biodiversity-rich semi-natural grasslands, and wetlands and the species that depend on them.

To make matters worse, Government data sent to the European Commission in 2019 shows that managed forestry may be releasing more carbon than it takes in, partly due to drainage and planting on sensitive soils, especially peat soils.

In short, the way Ireland has planted forests is how not to do it. Will we ever learn? We will if the EU forces us to change. This, it appears, is what it takes.

To close on a lighter note, our warm weather is allowing our butterflies and moths, and other insects, to proceed with the business of living. These photographs were taken in the last few days.  The warmth has resulted in such an explosion of moth numbers at my moth trap that bats have appeared to snap up the ones fluttering at roof height and below. A Wren entered my house looking for moths that entered when the windows were left open at night. Against warnings of doom, it is reassuring to see nature playing an intimate part in our lives and blurring the distinction between our external environment and internal spaces. Long may this continue.

Photographs J.Harding

Northern Eggar/Oak Eggar.
Ringlet butterflies, male below.
Gold Spot
Blue-tailed Damselfly (female).
Brimstone (male) on Fragrant Orchid.
Meadow Brown, female on the left.


Something to Mull Over

In the following article, BCI member Fionnuala Parnell brings us news of a wonderful discovery.

Many of us have a butterfly, moth or larva that we would love to see. After the larva of the Narrow-bordered Bee Hawkmoth mine was the Mullein Moth larva. Wishful examination of the Mullein plants in my front garden over the years failed to yield any of the colourful creatures. Because they aren’t present in Ireland that was hardly a surprise.

On Monday 12th July I noticed a large white larva with black and yellow markings feeding on figwort in my garden. A dash to consult my Field Guide to the Caterpillars of Great Britain and Ireland led me to three moths: Mullein, Toadflax Brocade and Striped Lychnis. It seemed I had a Mullein Moth larva! Many photos later which I submitted to the Mothsireland FB page, I got confirmation of Mullein. The Mullein Moth has not been recorded in Ireland since 1952 and then only in locations in coastal County Cork. My garden is large and in rural north Co Dublin surrounded by tillage farms.

The garden is managed for insects and, this year has the best growth of Figwort I’ve ever had. Mullein/Verbascum grows in the front garden. A bigger surprise came on Tuesday evening when another larva was discovered on a poor specimen of Figwort in another part of the garden. That one has gone down into the plant pot not to appear again and hopefully will be ok. The original larva is still happily munching away. I will keep watch on the larva and continue to photograph it as it matures. My neighbours have been in to see this wonder and are now on the hunt in their gardens. This has to be the highlight of the year for me although I still long to see that elusive Narrow-bordered Bee Hawkmoth larva.

Editor’s Note: The Mullein moth was declared extinct in Ireland in the Irish macro-moth red list published in 2016 by the National Parks and Wildlife Service  Ireland (Red List No. 9 Macro-moths (Lepidoptera)).

Photos copyright Fionnuala Parnell

Mullein moth larva on figwort
Close up of the feeding larva.
Underside of Mullein larva.

Why is this still happening?

Digger on Drehid Bog. It is likely that this was recently used to destroy part of this species-rich raised bog.
The bog has been cut, in the last few days, at this face.
The bog is being destroyed for turf. Here the turf has been laid out to dry. It will be burned, polluting the atmosphere, damaging human health and the ecosystem. The exposed peat left behind will release Carbon Dioxide, contributing to catastrophic climate change.
The remaining, and still beautiful fragment of raised bog, showing the golden Bog Asphodel.
Bog Asphodel.
The Large Heath butterfly, flying on Drehid Bog today, is reliant on wet, undamaged bogs. This colony, on Drehid Bog, faces extinction.

Drehid Bog, owned by Bord na Móna, is located near Timahoe village in northwest Kildare. This bog contains a high-quality remnant that contains a population of the endangered Large Heath butterfly. It also holds Green Hairstreak, Dark Tussock moth, Oak Eggar, and birds such as Cuckoo, Skylark, and Meadow Pipit (the latter two are birds of conservation concern, amber-listed and red-listed by BirdWatch Ireland).

Last November, Bord na Móna announced that it had ended peat extraction on all its bogs. Along the Derrymahon Road, one entrance to the site had bollards fitted, the other had a gate fitted (this is the gate the bog’s destroyers accessed). The site was safe from further removal of habitat, or so it appeared. Furthermore, this bog is to be restored by Bord na Móna under a government-backed scheme to address atmospheric pollution that is contributing to climate change.

This is not the poverty-stricken Ireland of the 1950s when the population of the Republic of Ireland fell to 2.8 million, with mass emigration to the UK and USA, when people were questioning the wisdom and value of Irish independence. It is not the economically depressed Ireland of the 1980s when our young people fled our shores for decent opportunities in the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, and elsewhere. This is 2021, when the economy is booming, despite the interruption wrought by the pandemic. In truth, the economic trajectory has been upwards since the mid-1990s. There is just no excuse for destroying our unique wild places if there ever was.

Here is our question.

Why is the damage shown here still going on? Bord na Móna (carrying out the rehabilitation) and the National Parks and Wildlife Service (the peatland rehabilitation scheme is regulated by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS)) need to answer this question.

Update (posted 5th July 2021)

Bord na Móna has confirmed that this is “unauthorised activity”. Their land team is investigating this damage.


Lullybeg Reserve Update

Lullybeg Reserve, also known as Crabtree Butterfly Reserve, is located in Lullybeg, County Kildare. The reserve contains a range of habitats that have developed on the cutaway bog. These include open water, marsh, heath, wet and dry grassland, scrub, and woodland. The soil chemistry is variable, allowing a wide range of plants to occur. The diverse vegetation and intimate proximity of habitats mean that invertebrate diversity is high, and butterflies are a salient representation of this biodiverse reserve.

Key butterflies present on the wing now are the Dark Green Fritillary, Marsh Fritillary, and the Small Heath. All three are carefully monitored, with site and transect counts compiled from 2011 to date. Two of these species are on the rise, one is in decline. The declining species is the Small Heath, which number 231 in 2013. By 2020 it had plummeted to 44. Up to June 29th this year (2021), 45 Small Heaths have been recorded. This figure should rise, but the future for the species is insecure. Better grazing management may help, but grazing regimes are hard to secure, especially for conservation organisations.

Small Heath, Lullybeg, in decline. Grazing is needed to prevent the loss of breeding habitat.
Dark Green Fritillary, female, on Lullybeg Reserve.

In better news, the Marsh Fritillary, an endangered species, is thriving on the reserve. Between 2011 and 2020, the average number of adult Marsh Fritillaries is 61. This year to date, 285 adults have been counted, a remarkable increase.

Marsh Fritillary (underside) on Rough Hawkbit, on Lullybeg Reserve.

It is too early in the flight period of the Dark Green Fritillary to make assess its progress, as its flight period on the reserve begins in late June. The highest total recorded was in 2018 when 35 were counted. This declined to 27 and 21 in 2019 and 2020 respectively, but a good year is a strong possibility, given the presence of good habitat patches on the reserve. The foodplant for the larva is mainly Common Dog-violet, which is now appearing in well-developed clumps as well as in smaller, scattered plants in the grassland. We look forward to bringing you an update on this powerful butterfly’s progress next month. For now, it is great to see it beginning to emerge on the reserve. We are hoping to have good news to report.

Dark Green Fritillary (underside), Lullybeg, County Kildare.

Post Update: July 15th, 2021

Some good news…

71 Small Heaths counted to July 15th, 2021, an increase on the 45 counted in 2020.



Event Report: Moth Morning and Walk from Lullymore to Lullybeg, June 26th 2021

Cool nights rarely produce high moth counts because moths, like their diurnal relatives, need heat for activity to take place. The temperatures during the night of June 25th and 26th ranged from lows of six to 10 Celsius, not really optimal for moths. However, winds were very light, and trapping in woodland meant good shelter prevailed, encouraging activity. Prime habitat helps too. The trapping habitat holds a range of trees and shrubs, wild grasses, flowers, and habitats including the adjoining cutaway bog, bog woodland containing bramble and Bilberry, and amenity parkland with shrubs.

We improved our chances by setting several light traps in locations with different conditions to draw in as many species as possible. We were not denied.

While no trap held very high numbers, the area’s species were well represented across the traps with at least 75 species recorded. A few expected species, such as Large Emerald, Green Silver-lines, and Cinnabar, were marked absent. But some lovely moths, such as Elephant Hawkmoth, Poplar Hawkmoth, Buff and White Ermine, Light Emerald, and True Lover’s Knot were found, as well as the rare Waved Carpet. The intriguingly sculpted Scalloped Hook-tip appeared along with the Lesser Swallow and Pale Prominent moths. Great enthusiasm characterised the trap openings, with many lovely photos taken.

Moths are a world apart for humans, very much creatures of the night, of mystery and enigma. Seeing even the small fraction of the 1500 or so species we have generates much wonder, and we have much to admire and much to delight us.

We repaired to the café in the wonderful Lullymore Heritage and Discovery Park which hosted our moth event before setting off for nearby Lullybeg for our butterfly walk.

This was very well-attended, as we were joined by more BCI members and others eager to see what the wonderful Ballydermot Bog Group area has on show,

But it remained cloudy, and few butterflies were spotted. This means one must search more sensitively, more diligently, applying knowledge of the area garnered over years of experience of the good spots. Vegetation must be scrutinised, and additional eyes really help with this.

Happily, we saw a number of species-Common Blue, Meadow Browns, Ringlets, Small Heaths, Clouded Border moths, Silver Hook moths, a Cinnabar, Narrow-bordered Bee Hawkmoth, looking very fresh for late June, the ubiquitous Burnet Companion, as well as the larvae of the Dark Tussock, Oak Eggar, Ruby Tiger, Emperor moth, and Brimstone. We saw several dragonfly/damselfly species too including Common Hawker, Four-spotted Chaser, Blue-tailed Damselfly, and others.

Taking one’s time really enhances the experience of nature as does sharing sightings with people who love nature. The warmth and interest shown by all, and our collective learning, is the day we had.

Birch Mocha, Lullymore Heritage Park.
Barred Red, Lullymore Heritage Park.
White Ermine, Lullymore Heritage Park.
Knotgrass, Lullymore Heritage Park.
Northern Spinach, Lullymore Heritage Park.
Red-necked Footman. Lullybeg Reserve.
Ringlet, Lullybeg Reserve.
Brimstone caterpillar on Purging Buckthorn, Lullybeg.
Azure Damselfly, Lullymore.
Variable Damselfly, Lullymore.
Blue-tailed Damselfly, Lullybeg Reserve.
Common Darter, Lullybeg Reserve.
Garden Chafer, Lullybeg Reserve.



Outing Report: Walk at Mornington, County Meath on June 19th 2021

The day was hazily sunny before noon, but soon after midday the clouds faded and the sun shone on our day. The Mornington dunes are part of the Boyne Coast Special Area of Conservation for three sand dune types-embryonic shifting dunes, shifting dunes along the shoreline with Marram, and fixed dunes with herbaceous vegetation.  Kidney Vetch. the flowering plant needed by the endangered Small Blue can be found on all three dune types, especially the latter two.  The fixed dunes are particularly rich in flora with Bee Orchid (scarce this year), Pyramidal Orchid, Common Cat’s-ear,  Wild Thyme, Wild Pansy, Common Ragwort, Kidney Vetch, Common Bird’s-foot-trefoil, and Red Fescue all abundant.

We were particularly looking for the Small Blue (very well-named for its size!) and the showing did not disappoint. The butterfly was everywhere we looked, from the newest to the most established high dunes backing onto the golf course. At times half a dozen could be seen jinking at the crest of a dunes-males checking the breeze and passing butterflies for a female. Females were observed laying eggs and rejecting plants, presumably because these already held an egg. Many of the butterflies looked fresh, although worn specimens were readily seen.

Skylarks and Meadow Pipits were vocal, adding to the wild atmosphere. Initially few Small Heaths were found but as it warmed these appeared in good numbers, with areas of matted fescue being favoured. Here, at least, this declining butterfly remains numerous. Meadow Browns, all new males, were extremely elusive and wild. These have not yet settled into their typical behaviour of searching patiently for females.

Because the dunes we reached from the car park were so productive, we did not venture too far but took the time to observe and tried to photograph the highly skittish Small Blues. The males have the annoying habit of resting with wings extended but darting off at the sight of another butterfly, leaving the photographer with a blurred photo or a photo of an unoccupied grass blade. However, the challenge of getting that perfect photograph is part of the enjoyment.

While pursuing butterflies to obtain photographs might be seen as a one-dimensional approach to nature study, I disagree. Much can be learned from an image. The butterfly’s orientation, stance, activity, choice of perch, the time the image was taken can tell us much about the creature’s ecology-don’t knock photography.

There was one fly in the day’s ointment. We received news of a proposal to construct a cycleway through the dunes which will enable cyclists to travel from Laytown to Drogheda. This is a disturbing idea. The dunes represent the best flower-rich habitat in County Meath and are protected under EU and Irish law. They also hold possibly the highest population of the endangered Small Blue butterfly in Ireland. The mania for cycleways should not destroy natural habitats. If there must be such an amenity, build it on the adjacent golf course.

Leave the dunes to nature. They are perfect as they are.

A female Small Blue, lightly worn, basks on a dry grass blade at Mornington.
Male Small Blue poses on Kidney Vetch at Mornington. Note the light dusting of blue scales, absent in the female.
This male Small Heath is basking on Kidney Vetch at Mornington.
Kidney Vetch, the foodplant for the larva of the Small Blue. This short-lived plant is used as a nectar source by the Small Blue and by many bees, including the Large Carder Bee, which we saw at Mornington.
Wild Pansy a lovely flower is abundant at Mornington.
This is a Pyramidal Orchid at Mornington, County Meath. They exist in a range of colours from pale lilac to deep pink.
Mornington, County Meath.

Thanks to everyone who came along. Your company made the day a great pleasure.



PRESS RELEASE: 15th July 2021

Kildare Conservation Groups announce a major drive for a new 7,000-hectare National Peatlands Park in Kildare and Offaly.

• Proposed Bog of Allen project offers potential for job creation, eco-tourism, and opportunities in research, science, conservation, and archaeology.
• The core aims of the group are to reverse biodiversity loss, save valuable peatland habitats, create landscape-scale parklands and empower local peatland communities.
• Irish Peatland Conservation Council, Lullymore Heritage and Discovery Park, Umeras Peatlands Park, Wild Kildare, Kildare Bat Group, Butterfly Conservation Ireland, and Birdwatch Ireland are advancing the initiative.

Seven local and national environmental organisations this week presented their proposal for a major new 7,000-hectare National Peatlands Park in Kildare and Offaly, at a meeting with Bord na Móna. The Group presented their proposal to Government and to the Strategic Policy Committees in Kildare County Council. The proposals have received endorsement by the Committees and have been identified for attention in the proposed new County Development Plan for Kildare.

Ireland is currently in a climate and biodiversity emergency.

• Peatlands are the largest store of terrestrial carbon in the world.
• Globally only 3% of the world’s landmass is peatlands. In Ireland, it is 20%.
• Peatlands store over three times as much carbon as rain forests.
• We also know that the world’s peatlands, while only covering 3% of the Earth’s landmass, contain twice the sequestered carbon of all the world’s forests combined.
• In Ireland 75% of our terrestrial carbon is stored in peatlands.

Jesmond Harding, spokesperson for the Peatlands National Park Group said:

“What we have in Ireland is unique and is the envy of the scientific world. The cessation of peat extraction in Ireland presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to save and preserve what we can and to create new wetland and heathland habitats across our central plains. The restoration and rehabilitation of this landscape will support Ireland’s work towards our net-zero emissions by 2050. It will create space for the biodiversity, amenity space for people and eco-tourism potential.”

The Irish Peatlands Conservation Council, Lullymore Heritage and Discovery Park, Umeras Peatlands Park, Wild Kildare, Kildare Bat Group, Butterfly Conservation Ireland, and Birdwatch Ireland have come together to drive a proposal for a new National Peatlands Park on a landscape scale in the Bog of Allen centred in County Kildare. The proposed study area is over 7,000 hectares. The objective is to rewild and restore the cutaway peatlands following the cessation of industrial-scale peat extraction, creating a National Park similar in ambition to world-famous parks such as The Peak District, The Lake District, and the Broads National Park in the UK. These national parks generate billions in revenue for the UK economy and create tens of thousands of jobs in their vicinity.

The National Peatlands Park Group says this initiative will benefit communities, the environment, and the economy. The Group is particularly concerned about the animal populations under pressure in our local area. The Curlew is a species that has seen a 98% decline in population since the 1980’s. One of Europe’s legally protected butterflies, the Marsh Fritillary, and the iconic raised bog specialist, the Large Heath Butterfly, are facing extinction in many areas.

Jesmond Harding added: “The Bog of Allen is unique in terms of scale and holds the potential for a true wilderness experience. The variety, beauty and number of species in this area is unique in Ireland and not only should it be protected, but it should also be available for us all to experience and enjoy. The designation of National Park Status for this Peatlands region will deliver multiple benefits. It will protect and greatly increase biodiversity, mitigate climate change, enhance the social and economic life of midland communities and act as a catalyst for a growing sustainable tourism industry.”

The proposed National Peatlands Park would be located on Bord Na Mona cutaway bogs in Kildare and Offaly and would complement the great work in rehabilitation that Bord na Móna are currently engaged in under their Peatlands Climate Action Strategy.


For further information please contact the spokesperson for The Peatlands National Park group, Jesmond Harding at conservation.butterfly@gmail.com

Notes to the editor:

About Irish Peatland Conservation Council

The Irish Peatland Conservation Council (IPCC) mission is to protect a representative sample of the peatlands of Ireland for people to enjoy today and in the future. The IPCC is a registered charity (Revenue Number CHY6829 and Charities Regulator Number 20013547) and a non-governmental organisation. The Council’s work includes purchasing and protecting peatland nature reserves for wildlife and habitat conservation, maintaining a database of 1150 peatland sites of conservation importance in Ireland, developing a Strategy for the Conservation of Peatlands in Ireland, providing resources and training for teachers and education groups, promoting environmental awareness and publicity, conducting research into the restoration of man-modified peatlands, fostering a positive attitude towards peatlands, encouraging lifestyles in harmony with the environment and fundraising.

About Butterfly Conservation Ireland

Butterfly Conservation Ireland (BCI) is a volunteer-run non-governmental conservation charity (Revenue Number 18161, Charities Regulator Number 20069131) founded in 2008 in response to the declines of our butterfly populations. We are dedicated to the conservation of butterfly habitats. We have a reserve in Lullybeg in County Kildare which we run with Bord an Móna where conservation is applied to protect the excellent habitats so that the extraordinary butterfly and moth populations continue to thrive. We manage a reserve in the Burren in conjunction with the Burren Conservation Volunteers to protect Ireland’s rarest butterflies. Butterfly Conservation Ireland runs a recording scheme with the National Biodiversity Data Centre in a joint initiative. Butterfly Conservation Ireland holds events to showcase butterfly conservation and we provide regular educational content on our website and in our Annual Report. Butterfly Conservation Ireland advises on the conservation of butterfly habitats and advocates to urge the protection and correct management of our landscapes.

About Birdwatch Ireland

Birdwatch Ireland is a science-based conservation charity and the largest independent conservation organisation in Ireland. The primary objective of BirdWatch Ireland is the protection of wild birds and their habitats in Ireland. Birdwatch Ireland has 15,000 members, 2,000 active volunteers, 30 local branches across the nation, 450 events free to the public every year, and 116 partners across the globe in BirdLife International

About Lullymore Heritage and Discovery Park

Lullymore Heritage and Discovery Park is a social enterprise day visitor attraction offering over 60 acres of serene woodland and peatland trails, in Ireland’s most famous peatland, the Bog of Allen in West Kildare. The Park is a key resource in the region, providing a range of experiences such as education on peatland biodiversity and history, as well as leisure and play. The facility caters to visitors of all ages, school tours at pre-school, primary, and secondary level, language schools, families, corporate events, and international tour groups. Lullymore Heritage and Discovery Park is a national award-winning enterprise (ITIA Best Environmental Tourism Innovation 2017) and attracts over 50,000 visitors annually.

About Umeras Peatland Park

Umeras bog is approximately 750 acres, comprised of 650 acres of cut-away bog, 40 acres of raised bog, and 60 acres of birch woodland, drains, bog railway, and a works yard located near the Grand Canal between Monasterevin and Rathangan. The objective of local community group Umeras Community Development is to transform Umeras Bog into a peatlands park as a local and tourist amenity. We believe that a Peatlands Park will bring tourists to Monasterevin and Rathangan, which combined with the Blueway and Ballykelly Mills Distillery will rejuvenate the local economy. The Peatlands Park would create direct employment in building and managing the park, and indirectly, by creating demand for cafés, shops, bike hire, accommodation, etc. in Monasterevin and Rathangan.

About Wild Kildare

Wild Kildare is a voluntary group with the aim of promoting, enhancing and protecting the wildlife and biodiversity of Co. Kildare.

About Kildare Bat Group

Kildare Bat Group was launched in 2011, and with the encouragement and support of Bat Conservation Ireland, a Heritage Grant via Kildare County Council, and a committed team of local volunteers, has been going from strength to strength. We are members of Bat Conservation Ireland with a particular interest in Kildare’s bats.