A day of habitat management for butterflies.

I’m a volunteer with the Vale Countryside Volunteers, this group meets every Wednesday to carry out practical conservation tasks to benefit wildlife in and around the Aylesbury Vale. Through this program I have assisted with a wide range of practical conservation tasks including scrub bashing, grassland management and tree felling along with some monitoring of reptiles, amphibians and bats. I find volunteering with this group to be very rewarding and the free cake and biscuits are an added bonus.

This week we headed on the minibus to the small village of Oving to carry out some habitat enhancement on an area previously used for grazing 20 years ago, specifically aiming to improve the area for butterflies. The site is quite small however its steep banks trap heat and have attracted a wide range of butterfly species (According to my list c20 species can be seen throughout the year on site). I found it hard to believe that this site would have been a monoculture of grasses just 20 years ago and I’m pleased that the farmer decided to allow this area (which is rather steep for agriculture) to be managed for butterflies by two local villagers.

The original idea for the site was to manage it like a traditional hay meadow and cut it once a year however it was decided that it would be better for butterflies if a mosaic of sward heights could be created. As you can imagine this means a lot more work has to be carried out in order to keep some areas really short and allow other areas to grow longer. As the site is very steep most of it can’t be cut by mowers to has to be cut by hand, which is where we came in…

Some areas were overgrown with grass which swamps out wildflowers so this needed to be cut.

If the grass was allowed to rot down where it was cut it would enrich the already rich soil which would benefit the grass species more than the wildflower species so all the cuttings had to be raked up…
They were then piled up in a corner where they can compost down and create habitats for other creatures. I managed to cut, carry and pile all this up in the morning..
Some grass was left long in order to keep butterflies and other insects happy, from the sound of all the grasshoppers I heard this management program of cutting different patches of grass on a rotational scheme to create different sward heights was certainly working and creating a biodiverse and heterogeneous habitat.
After having a break for lunch we decided to tackle some of the nettles on site along with some hogweed. Nettles are an important foodplant for some butterflies so we didn’t want to take out too many but like hogweed they spread rapidly and tend to outcompete other plant species so must be managed if we are to create a nice biodiverse habitat that insects will love. We did check the nettles for caterpillars and any patches where there were caterpillars were left. I got rather stung clearing this patch…
and it doesn’t look that appealing once the nettles are cleared. However this will give other plant species a chance in a few years time and may allow the nearby birds foot trefoil to spread which has already been attracting common blues.
I look forward to seeing what next Wednesdays task will involve.
Thanks for reading,

One response to “A day of habitat management for butterflies.

  1. Looking forward to seeing the rewards of all of your hardwork 😉

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