Wildlife Column: Keeping up with the local ‘Browns’ 

Ian Rotherham
Ian Rotherham

Last week I wrote about the Common Blue which today is not so common.

However, another group of butterflies I think are generally doing pretty well are the ‘Browns’. In recent years, several species have become regular visitors to gardens to feed on the rich sources of nectar to be found there. The most common include the ‘Meadow Brown’, the ‘Hedge Brown’ or ‘Gatekeeper’, and the rather prettily specked, ‘Wall Brown’.

Brown Butterfly

Brown Butterfly

These are species of rougher grasslands, woodland edges, roadside verges and hedgerows, and are occasionally joined by the more diminutive ‘Small Heath’, a butterfly of grasslands and heaths. Some species like the Wall Brown have spread northwards in recent decades, but the most spectacular example of such a range expansion following climate warming has been the very distinctive ‘Speckled Wood’ which is really a butterfly of woodland glades, rides, and other clearings and that today finds many gardens much to its liking.

Only thirty or forty years ago, to see this species in the Sheffield area for example, was virtually unthinkable. Today it is commonplace throughout woods, parks and gardens across the region. We also find it in gardens almost right through the summer from late springtime onwards.

Another garden special is the Holly Blue which is a cousin of the Common Blue but one with totally different habitat requirements. Most Blues are grassland lovers and especially found on chalk or limestone meadows and pastures.

However, the Holly Blue is a species of woodland edge and has adapted well to gardens and parks. They favour good stands of Holly bushes on which to lay their eggs but will also use Ivy and Berberis too.

Again, it seems that they are active now during a good period of the year from spring though until late summer.

If you have the right habitat in your garden then this is a species to watch out for and the giveaway is firstly a ‘Blue’ away from grassland habitat, and then two, the strikingly beautiful white-silver undersides of the wings. This isn’t easy to see in detail but they flicker brightly when in flight.