With conservation and the environment being high on our agenda right now, we were delighted to read that this year has been remarkably good for butterflies at St John’s, Stone, Buckinghamshire.

In this report, Michael Pitt-Payne describes the fantastic results of this year’s survey he has completed as part of the National Butterfly Count. 

I have been carrying out annual surveys of the butterflies and moths in the churchyard of St Johns in Stone on behalf of the Upper Thames Branch of Butterfly Conservation since 2009.

I have seen at least 16 species every year apart from the year when all the grass was cut, and most of the butterflies disappeared as they had lost their food source.

(Right are a small copper and a gate keeper.)

Since then, we have seen an increase in the number of butterflies, and species because we leave an area to produce wildflowers and long grass, for them to feed on. This grows wild until the end of August.

This year has been remarkably good for butterflies in the churchyard; in the middle of July when the Big Butterfly Count began, I found 14 different species and more than 40 insects on the wing at one time and so far, this year I have seen 19 different species. This is the most species I have seen in any one year, and there’s a chance that there will be more before the summer is over.

There are a lot of Ragwort plants growing and the black and yellow caterpillars of the Cinnabar moth feed on them. One evening during the first week of July, I saw a hummingbird hawk-moth feeding on low growing herb plants in the patch of grass in front of the church door. This fast-flying moth is an annual immigrant from the continent. This was the first one I have seen this year, and I was fortunate to catch a picture of it in flight.

As a result of keeping areas of the churchyard unmown, we’ve recorded the most species of butterflies in a churchyard in the Upper Thames region for the past few years.

Could you establish a ‘meadow’ area where plants and wildlife can flourish in your garden or church yard? Find instructions on how here.

(Right are a red admiral and a holly blue.)