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All a-flutter on The Farm!

Annie Price, Management Committee Member, reflects on our first season of butterfly counts at The Farm.

It’s early May and the small group of volunteers doing a survey excitedly spot a brown shape fluttering past –‘there’s one!‘  Then……..’oh it’s gone’ as the unidentified flying creature disappeared across The Farm’s car park. So that was the only sighting for our first hour long butterfly survey – mind you, it was an unseasonably cool spring….and anyway we know we’ve got the summer ahead…

Several weekly surveys later in mid-July it’s a very different story: over 240 butterflies – 13 different species – recorded during one hour long survey!

So what are we up to? This summer The Community Farm decided to take part in weekly butterfly surveying to contribute to the Butterfly Conservation Trust’s national database. This monitors the state of butterfly numbers and species across the UK. We’d already been surveying and collecting data on bumblebees for several years and were able to use the same ‘transect’ (a set route across The Farm) for butterfly recording.

So with support from the Bristol and Somerset branch of the Trust a small team of volunteers, all beginners – some new to The Farm, some already volunteering here – began the weekly surveying. One minor complication – sunny and warm weather are needed for the session so we had to be flexible and be guided each week by the weather forecast in choosing the best day to survey. Fortunately we had enough team members so that at least two – and sometimes several more – volunteers made the survey day.

And what better way to spend a summer’s day than a slow hour long walk around The Farm counting and identifying butterflies, and we had so much to learn! The female Common Blue is mainly brown – and looks very much like the Brown Argus - Small Whites may be larger than Large Whites – and many more conundrums besides. So, armed with ID charts and the wonderful ‘bugnoculars’, and sharing our developing knowledge with each other, we smiled our way through the task, a great example of citizen science. We even found ourselves identifying various flowers and bugs along the way whilst looking up info about butterfly lifecycles when we got home.

Late September brings an end to the butterfly recording season – April to September – and we’ve finished the season spotting a flurry of beautiful autumn-coloured Red Admirals and Commas enjoying the hedgerow blackberries.

So what now? We’ll be reviewing our findings alongside that of other Somerset groups and considering how we can improve the habitat across The Farm throughout the lifecycle of these and other pollinators. What we do know is that, across the UK, many species of butterfly are in decline and at risk of extinction largely through loss of habitat. Our Community Farm data will contribute to national and international research.

Then next April we start again! It’s a long-term project so if you’d like to join this or any other volunteering on the Farm contact Emmy, we'd love to have you!

By Annie Price, Management Committee Member

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