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Behind the Scenes of a Duke of Burgundy Butterfly Survey

Updated: Jul 7, 2022

I met Mic from the University of Cumbria BOOM project early one May morning, and we drove from train station to the main Duke of Burgundy butterfly survey site, in the peaceful Rusland Valley, Cumbria.

With significant conservation efforts afoot, my first impressions were, indeed, that nature has a chance here. Whilst the scent of pine trees transported me momentarily to childhood camping holidays, I also wondered if the undisturbed over-turned trees that I could see, would mean biodiversity, such as woodlice, might thrive.

We gathered together with Martin from Butterfly Conservation, and set off walking over uneven terrain to the survey locations. Although I had worried that I wouldn’t keep up, I was reassured by a responsive pace. The accompanying stunning forest view towards Grizedale was only enhanced by its backdrop - Coniston Old Man in the Lake District.

My comrades for the day were highly knowledgeable and keen to share their enthusiasms, for example about the surrounding bird calls and key butterfly and moth identification features. There were also the occasional ‘fun facts’ thrown in for good measure, such as that the Duke of Burgundy butterfly will only venture a few hundred yards territorially, but some butterflies migrate to the UK from as far as Morocco!

The butterflies themselves were both rather tiny and beautiful. They are particular about their habitats – perhaps why they are so rare – and feed only on certain flowers at certain times. Flying when the sun shines, it was lucky for us that the day was warm and sky clear.

The results were that we broke the daily count record by spotting twenty-five Duke of Burgundy butterflies over twenty-one from the previous year, and whilst this is not an exact science, the signs from neighbouring sites were also positive.

It was a lovely day and a good work-out to boot.

Photo credit (centre): Martin Wain, Butterfly Conservation

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