March 07, 2015

Winging it

A day of warm sunshine, blue skies and barely any breeze. The daffs are starting to come out, and while walking the dog this morning we saw three red admirals, the first butterflies I've seen so far this year.

In the south-east of England these beautiful insects can survive a mild winter, and with no snow and little frost in the Capital this year it's likely that these have just emerged from hibernation.

Red admirals are common in summer, but most of ours migrate here; first from north Africa and southern Europe and then, later in the year, from Spain and Portugal. It's thought that global warming is helping them to establish a resident population here in the UK.

They'll need to find food quickly if they are to survive – something that could prove a problem, as their primary nectar sources are bramble, fleabane, hemp agrimony, ivy, privet, thistles and teasels – none of which are currently in flower. I really hope they found a patch of crocuses or some hellebores to keep them going for now, and that when they come to breed they can find a good patch of nettles to lay their eggs on so their larva can survive.

It's a reminder of why planting pollen-rich species – and not just ornamentals like many narcissi, and flowering cherry – can be so important for wildlife; and why we need to conserve plants like ivy and nettle that may on occasion seem inconvenient to us, but on which our wildlife relies.