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Our Big Butterfly Count in Salford

event report

Although the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch is the UK’s longest-running and largest nature survey, for the last 10 years Butterfly Conservation have been running a survey of their own – the Big Butterfly Count. This is every bit as important for tracking the responses of our wildlife to climate change. It even has three advantages over the Birdwatch: it only takes 15 minutes (not an hour), it takes place at the height of summer, and it is guaranteed not to rain. The last is a bit of a cheat because butterflies don’t usually appear in wet weather, so you have an excuse to put off taking part until the sun comes out!

With the recent lifting of lockdown, we invited the Nature group to come and help us complete the Count among the shrubs and wildflowers of Crescent Meadow. This is one of many riverside meadows along the Irwell in Salford, and it’s the nearest to the centre of Manchester – only a mile in a straight line from Albert Square. The middle of the meadow is given over to wildflowers, whereas the riverbanks are wooded, giving good conditions for a wide range of species.

Crescent Meadow, overlooked by Salford University in the background, was rather gloomy when we first set out

The Butterfly Count actually has another advantage – it only covers 17 butterfly species, most of which are easily identified, plus three moths that fly by day instead of in the evenings. We came prepared with ID sheets that Butterfly Conservation have helpfully made available online.

Abundant wildflowers such as yarrow and clover (also knapweed and creeping thistle) cover the meadow in August

Armed with our ID sheets to tick off our sightings, we fanned out across the meadow to improve our chances. At first it was a bit cloudy and numbers were rather low, but halfway through the Count patches of strong sunshine started to break through and the meadow came alive with tiny fast-moving wings darting among the knapweed and ragwort. Although we eventually identified over 20 specimens, we only saw three species in total – the Small White, Meadow Brown and Speckled Wood. This wasn’t too surprising given that there’s been a lot of cold weather in the spring, which has had an impact on the populations of quite a few common butterflies such as the Comma and Red Admiral.

One of the many specimens of the Meadow Brown butterfly tempted out by the appearance of the sun during the Count

The Count draws to a close this year on Sunday 8 August. However, if you would like to take part in nature recording there are still plenty of opportunities. The Woodland Trust run Nature’s Calendar, which tracks many different species including trees, shrubs and migrating birds. You can sign up and start recording at any time of year. They would particularly like you to look out for signs of autumn such as the last swallows or beech trees changing colour, as these haven’t been recorded as much as events in spring.

We would also like to invite you to take part in another nature survey later in the month. This one will be slightly different as it will take place after dark! South Lancashire Bat Group’s Steve Parker has organised a bat walk for us at Platt Fields on Wednesday 25 August – hope to see you there.

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