Suspected Uist H5N1 cases waiting to be confirmed
The RSPB and NatureScot have confirmed that a number of dead and dying swans have been found in the Drimsdale area.
In accordance with current guidance, the birds were reported to Defra but delays in testing have held back confirmation of the suspected presence of Avian Influenza H5N1.
Local NatureScot staff are now being trained to allow them to carry out the required testing regime and it is hoped that confirmation of suspected cases will be a smoother, quicker process in future.
Members of the public are reminded not touch or pick up any dead or visibly sick birds and to report a single dead bird of prey, three dead gulls or wild waterfowl or five or more dead wild birds of any other species to the Defra helpline on 03459 33 55 77.
An Avian Influenza Prevention Zone is now in place across the UK, bringing additional regulations for all poultry keepers. The measures require all free ranging birds to be kept within fenced areas, with ponds, watercourses and areas of permanent standing water fenced off and all feeding and watering provision to be kept within enclosed areas to discourage wild birds.
The Robin we are told is associated with Christmas because in Victorian times, when Christmas cards first became popular, postmen wore red waistcoats and were nicknamed ‘Robins’. It is certainly the most commonly seen bird on our Christmas cards. Of course part of its popularity may well be that they can become quite tame and against a cold, grey, possibly white winter day, the Robin stands out as a bright splash of colour. Yet this cheerful looking bird, acting as emblem of peace and goodwill, can be very aggressive when protecting its territory.
Looking at the Scottish Wildlife Trust website I see that the Robin’s association with Christmas is strong: In one tale, it is said that when Mary was giving birth to baby Jesus in the stable, she noticed that the fire they had lit to stay warm and comfortable was in danger of going out. Suddenly, a small brown bird appeared and started flapping its wings in front of the fire, causing it to roar back to life. However, as the bird flew around tending to the fire, a stray ember made its way towards the bird, scorching its breast bright red. Seeing this, Mary declared that the red breast was a sign of the bird’s kind heart, which would pass on to its descendants to wear proudly forevermore.
The Robin has another claim to fame, as it was the first bird to have a book that’s entirely about itself. Written by David Lack, (The Life of the Robin H E & G Witherby 1943) he suggests its popularity is due to the fact that it sings almost all year round. At the end of summer when all else has stopped singing, male and female robins separate. Each then holds its own territory and sings in its defence. As spring arrives it is interesting to watch the change in behaviour as the male and female slowly learn to accept each other. The male bird will help to strengthen their bond by feeding her, which also provides extra resources for laying a good clutch of eggs.
Looking through my notebooks I see that Robins were rare in Uist forty years or so ago. I remember the Stonechat being thought of as kind of Robin substitute; the males having a fine orange red breast. At that time Stonechats were one of the few small birds that stayed with us throughout the winter. Robins were confined to places that had some trees and shrubbery. For me living in Daliburgh that meant searching for them near the Doctor’s gardens in Lochboisdale and Daliburgh along with parts of South Lochboisdale where gardens provided the required shelter.
How things have changed. Warmer, wetter winters and the important addition of more gardens with trees and shrubs, substantial forestry plantations and the now quite frequent provision of wild bird food have altered species numbers and distribution. Robins are now commonly seen in our gardens throughout the year along with other small birds such as Goldfinches and Greenfinches.
The Robin in the attached photo I call Spot Robin because of the pale patch above its left eye. It is heading into its sixth winter, which is about as long as a robin is expected to live. The Robin and the Stonechat both like to sit up on perches; a spade left out in the garden as in this Christmas card by the wildlife artist Peter Partington or a fence post like that in the Stonechat photo.
By Danny Rafferty
Uisinis Bothy is on the south side of Mol a Deas, which is a boulder beach about two miles south-west of Uisinis Lighthouse. It was first renovated by the Mountain Bothies Association (MBA) volunteers in 1979 in memory of Donald H Stuart, a staunch contributor to early MBA work parties, and it offers basic accommodation and shelter to walkers and those interested in the outdoors. It is the only MBA-maintained bothy in the Outer Hebrides.
The MBA was founded in 1965 and the first projects were in the Borders of Scotland and the north of England. The MBA works in partnership with estate owners and today maintains over 100 bothies with the majority in rural and upland Scotland. With the agreement of the estate owners the MBA renovates traditional vernacular buildings in remote locations and renders them habitable. In the majority of cases it does not actually own the bothies. This work is done by volunteers, as is everything else in the MBA except for some outsourcing for the purposes of audit and membership affairs. On its fiftieth anniversary in 2015 it received the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service.
The MBA is a membership organisation and is financed by subscriptions and the occasional legacy. You do not have to be a member to use bothies and there is no charge. You are, however, expected to follow common-sense rules and respect the building, the environment and your fellow-users. In short, leave the place in as good or better condition than you found it. All bothies have a bothy book and the number of entries helps us to monitor levels of use. Many interesting anecdotes are recorded and some people are inspired to create poetry and pictures. An increasing number of visitors are from abroad.
Uisinis is a small two-roomed building facing east-west about 50 metres above the shore. The first room is a storeroom for tools and some fuel. Part of the floor here is earthen. The living-space has two wide bunkbeds and a single bench which also can also serve as a bed. It has a stove which can burn dry peat, coal or driftwood but not plastic. Water is obtained from a burn 200 metres to the south, but there must have been a closer source when the building was continuously occupied. The bothy can accommodate about six persons in reasonable comfort.
Today the east side of South Uist is uninhabited and seems remote. Its rugged character is very different to the flat fertile lands of the west. However in the past it did have advantages as a place of settlement: it was more sheltered from the prevailing south-westerlies; it had all-season access to the Minch at a time when fishing was far more productive; it had a plentiful supply of seaweed for fertiliser and kelp, peat for fuel, and possibly a slightly milder climate. Like Knoydart across the Minch it was a good place for wintering cattle. Testimony to the former sizeable population can be seen in the landscape with the numerous feannagan – lazybeds – in evidence. However sheep husbandry was introduced after the change in estate ownership in 1838 and the catastrophe of the 1846 Potato Famine. The existing population was removed and a lesser number of shepherds and their families mainly from the Bracadale area of Skye introduced to the area.
The building we see today probably dates from the 1860s and was continuously occupied at least until the early 1920s when the famous Scottish naturalist Seton-Gordon happened upon it when he was lost in mist. He was well received by the resident family and this is recorded in his ‘Hebridean Memories’ – still in print.
When the MBA took on the building in 1978, Uisinis was still being used by crofters seasonally for gatherings. In fact there was always guidance for recreational users that priority should be given to them. The crofters would visit the lighthouse staff in the evening. The keepers were able to receive television beamed from Skye before it arrived in Uist and the visitors could then describe the programmes and relate storylines to friends and relatives at home. The lighthouse became automatic in the early 1970s.
There was an MBA work-party at Uisinis in 1998 and the building was transformed by four work-parties between 2011 and 2015. In 2014 the old roof was removed and a new one put in its place. That took a small team of volunteers a full month to execute and was a Herculean task. Stòras Uibhist has always been supportive with transport and assistance.
Not only is Uisinis a beautiful place to visit it also is rich in archaeological remains particularly Iron Age wheelhouses and souterrains. If you intend to visit with a party of four or more, you should inform the estate and myself. During the stag-shooting season which runs from about the beginning of September to the end of October users should inform the estate on 01878700101 of their intended movements.
Given the weather in these islands there are always maintenance issues. If you would like to join me in caring for the bothy, I can be reached by email on firstname.lastname@example.org. My landline is 01878700249 (voicemail). You don’t have to have DIY skills though that of course would be useful, just some enthusiasm and a willingness to help. If you wish to learn more about the Mountain Bothies Association, there is an excellent website.
Danny Rafferty, MBA Maintenance Organiser, Uisinis.
By Simon M. Davies
There can be no doubt that place names are of immense importance, not only for finding and identifying a location, but also for giving indications of its former uses, ownership or cultural associations. This is particularly true of the traditional Gaelic names which often contain a wealth of information in their formulation. However, so much of the accuracy can be inadvertently lost when surveying and recording of information is carried out by non-Gaelic speakers and reliance is placed on phonetic approximations. Blanket corporate policies can further worsen the situation for a few unfortunate localities.
There is a certain loch on the Isle of South Uist, within Howmore township at NF 76 36, whose name made its cartographic debut as ‘Loch Rigarey’ on the ‘Plan of the Island of South Uist’, surveyed 1805 by Wm Bald, a 17-year-old prodigy from Burntisland, Fife. By the time of the O.S. 1st Edition, the loch had been divided into two parts by the building of the road, now the A865, and the two resultant lochs now had individual names. The name ‘chosen’ by O.S. for the main loch had evolved into Loch Rigarry – from the Name Book options of Loch Rigarry (Neil McIntyre’s suggestion), Loch Rigary (from the Admiralty Chart), Loch Rigarey (from Johnston’s map) or Loch Righarruidh (suggested by A. A. Carmichael, with a note to check this spelling, so possibly Loch Righaraidh). The secondary, eastern loch was now called Loch Eilean a’ Ghille-ruaidh. There was also a school marked adjacent to the township road junction, some 200 metres south of the loch.
In the 1921-30 ‘new’ 1-inch survey, the names remained unchanged, but on a small promontory to the west of the main road, a ‘new’ building group – a small farmstead and outbuildings – are now marked, although the school has not changed its position. During the 20th Century, the angling on South Uist became more important, and the loch began to be referred to as ‘Schoolhouse Loch’ – wrongly identifying the now disused farmstead as a former small schoolhouse. It is likely the name was chosen to avoid any potential Gaelic pronunciation problems. By taking this step, the loch immediately lost its provenance and past, but for this loch, things are about to get worse.
The publication of the new Explorer maps came along, and with that, the desire to reinvigorate the Gaelic names of features on the maps as important cultural features. So, once again, the loch’s name has been changed – and is now proudly (?) sporting the name of Loch an Taigh-Sgoil, marked against the southern portion of the loch. The position of the name “Loch Eilean a’ Ghille-ruaidh” has also been now moved to the West of the main road, which itself has been straightened, widened and repositioned some 20-50 metres east, and now seems to refer to the northern section of the main loch, not the sectioned-off eastern portion.
So, clarity or madness? Should an English name, given to a loch to avoid potential embarrassment of tourists, be translated into Gaelic and gain ‘official’ recognition in a Crown document, erasing all mention of the original Gaelic roots? Or would it be better to retain the Gaelic name – preferably going with a version of Carmichael’s suggestion Righaraidh (King’s Hut or King’s Shieling) – and give it the subsidiary English alternative of Schoolhouse Loch (even though the schoolhouse was never there!).
Were the original phonetic Gaelic suggestions true to the intended origins? The -garry suffix is most commonly from Gearraidh – a term for the intermediate land twixt Machair (the coastal strip of blown shell-sand cover) and Monadh (the peaty marshland pasture). And what of the now anonymous Eastern loch? Perhaps we should adopt a plan of simplicity and just call it ‘Fred’.
All maps referred to in the text are available on the National Library of Scotland at https://maps.nls.uk/
O.S. Name Books can be accessed and interrogated online at https://scotlandsplaces.gov.uk/
Edward Dwelly’s Illustrated Gaelic-English Dictionary was used for referencing translations as needed.
Simon M. Davies has lived on South Uist since 2004 and has had a keen interest in the archaeological, historical and cultural heritage of the West Highlands and the Isles since childhood. He is currently the Chair of the Uist Community Archaeology Group and an active member of ACFA, a national group of field archaeologists specialising in surveying and recording the archaeological landscapes of both mainland Scotland and the Isles.
Restrictions back in place
An outbreak of the highly pathogenic avian influenza has been confirmed on Great Bernera, Isle of Lewis, resulting in a 3km Protection Zone and 10km Surveillance Zone being established around the infected premises.
An increase in the overall number of UK cases has resulted in the UK Government reintroducing its Prevention Zone declaration across Great Britain, making it a legal requirement for all poultry keepers to follow strict biosecurity measures.
All bird keepers – whether keeping birds as pets, in commercial flocks or just a few birds in a backyard flock – are required to keep a close watch for signs of disease and to seek prompt advice from the vet should they have any concerns.
In a joint statement the Chief Veterinary Officers for England, Scotland and Wales said:
“Bird keepers have faced the largest ever outbreak of avian flu this year and with winter bringing an even more increased risk to flocks as migratory birds return to the United Kingdom.
“Scrupulous biosecurity and hygiene measures are the best form of defence, which is why we have declared an Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) across Great Britain, meaning that all bird keepers must take action to help prevent the disease spreading to more poultry and other domestic birds.
The introduction of an AIPZ means regardless of whether you keep a few birds or thousands, you are legally required to meet enhanced biosecurity requirements to protect your birds from this highly infectious disease.”
The new measures means bird keepers must keep free ranging birds within fenced areas, and ensure that ponds, watercourses and areas of permanent standing water are fenced off. Domestic ducks and geese must be separated from other poultry and all birds should be fed and watered in enclosed areas to discourage wild birds.
The Government is asking all poultry keepers to register their flock, even if they only keep the odd hen or duck as a pet. Registration is a legal requirement for flocks of more than 50 or more birds.
The Hebridean Rock Dove
Most of us see a pigeon every day without really noticing it. Since the dawn of human civilization, these birds have followed us around the world.
We first domesticated them to eat, but they soon proved their worth as messengers and sources of entertainment. The crazy feathers of fancy pigeons at exhibitions and shows helped inspire Darwin’s theory of evolution. On the other hand, being so popular has had some unplanned outcomes. All over the world, for the past few hundred years, some of these domestic pigeons have been escaping their cozy lives in captivity and becoming wild. Uniquely adapted to living alongside us, these ‘feral pigeons’ bred and now number in their millions, and can be found in almost every city and town in the world. Feral pigeons are often condemned as pests, making a mess of pretty streets and statues in famous squares all over the world. More positively, for many people, they’re one of very few connections to nature amidst the urban sprawl.
Whilst this global takeover was happening, the original wild pigeon, more technically called the Rock Dove, was doing what it’s always done, nesting in caves and cliffs, and foraging for seeds in meadows. Rock Doves are much shier than feral pigeons and are only found in places like the Outer Hebrides which are far away from their relatives’ urban strongholds. Unlike feral pigeons, who can have black, grey, rusty brown or white plumage, all Rock Doves look identical, with a blue-grey colour, a white patch on their back, and black bars on their wings. Unfortunately for them, their feral cousin has done so well that it has begun to infiltrate the Rock Doves’ habitat. Rather than simply outcompeting their rarer relatives, feral pigeons begin to interbreed with them. Eventually, particularly when feral pigeons outnumber them, Rock Dove populations are replaced with populations of hybrids and feral pigeons.
Whilst Rock Doves used to be found across the entire Mediterranean and Western European coast, they now hang on only in small relict populations. The Outer Hebrides, with its unique agricultural traditions and machair meadows, holds one such population. The rocky coasts of the east and the open lands of the west provide an excellent refuge for Rock Doves. Recent studies of their DNA have proven that they are, for now, essentially free of any contact with domestic or feral pigeons. Of the locations which were included in the study, nowhere else in the UK or Ireland had such a status.
The wild Rock Doves of the Outer Hebrides are one of the least understood birds in the UK. They have usually fallen beneath notice of scientists and birdwatchers, meaning that even basic aspects of their behaviour are not recorded. As long as the Outer Hebrides, and particularly their strongholds in Uist, remain free of colonies of feral and free-flying domestic pigeons, the Rock Dove will survive. So next time you see a pigeon fly by, take a moment to remember this is one of the very few places left in Europe where it’s hasn’t originated from escaped captive birds, but is the original, truly wild, version.
Living on an almost treeless island on the edge of the North Atlantic, it is difficult to reconcile a typical Hebridean autumn with the season of “mists and mellow fruitfulness” eulogised on the mainland. Sadly, the sensory delights of a profusion of large, richly coloured fungi emerging from the mulch of fallen leaves in mature deciduous woodland or ancient pine woods, with their distinctive rich earthy smell, eludes us. Small numbers of woodland species can be found in the relatively recent plantations at North Loch Eynort and amongst the conifers at Langass and Cladach Vallay, but as yet, they are not as diverse or abundant as those found in the mature woods around Lews Castle.
Our landscapes may not be graced with ancient woodlands, but our grasslands are just as important and support an important community of fungi. Easiest to find are the dung fungi (mottlegills, inkcaps and roundheads), which play an important part in recycling the nutrients from animal manure. More elusive are the corals or club fungi, the short, yellow or mauve spindles or clubs, nestling down in the grass; or the pinkgills which are often pale brown, grey or even blue, named for their pink spores. Then, just as the wildflowers are fading, the autumn jewels of the grasslands appear – the waxcaps.
Like most groups of fungi, they can be variable in both size and colour. Small and delicate, stocky and robust, in a kaleidoscope of colours – scarlet or crimson, orange or peach, buttercup yellow, pale green, soft grey or a delicate ivory. The cap can be smooth and dry, slightly rough or a little sticky and sometimes slimy and glutinous. Some species can also have a distinctive smell, for example the cedarwood waxcap is reminiscent of old-fashioned wooden pencils.
Waxcaps can be enigmatic, typically found in unimproved permanent pastures, although they can also be found on lawns or amenity grassland in parks. We know very little about their ecology, but they prefer sites which have not been disturbed or enriched by fertilisers or heavy grazing. In common with woodland fungi, they may have a close relationship with plants, exchanging nutrients with the plant roots.
Their common name is derived from the waxy nature of their gills and not the texture of the cap. The fungus you see above ground is the fruiting body which produces the spores. In the familiar mushroom or toadstool type, the spores are usually produced from the pleated structures below the cap which are known as gills. The main body of the fungus consists of a network of slender threads (hyphae), growing in the soil, or through rotting timber, dung or other organic matter. Fungi have a complex biology and although we know comparatively little about their ecology, we are beginning to understand that they have a major role in maintaining our natural environment. Fortunately, we can still admire them, even if they are difficult to identify and have very complex lifestyles.
You can see more photographs of waxcaps and other fungi on the Outer Hebrides Fungi website (www.outerhebridesfungi.co.uk/index.php) and copies of the OHBR Grassland Fungi leaflet are available in museums and libraries and can be downloaded from the OHBR website
Chris & Christine Johnson
Risso’s dolphins in the Sound of Eriskay
On Thursday, 11th August three dolphins were observed swimming around on the east side of Eriskay causeway, near the bridge. One very much smaller than the others stayed close beside one of them, so almost certainly a mother and calf.
There was some discussion initially about the species; only brief views of parts of the head and back were visible when they took breaths. Initial suggestions were Atlantic white-sided dolphin; or possibly Bottlenose dolphin; but eventually close scrutiny of some good photographs and video sequences led to the conclusion that they were Risso’s dolphins (Grampus griseus). Some photographs showed pale parallel lines on the sides of the calf, the remains of ‘foetal folds’ resulting from it having been curled up inside the mother; evidence that it was probably no more than a few weeks old. Apparently Risso’s dolphins have been seen on a number of occasions on the east side of Uist recently.
There was concern that they might strand as although there is a deep channel from west to east, at low tide much of the sound is very shallow and large areas dry out, especially at spring tides as we had just then. The two larger ones did indeed become grounded in shallow water after midday on Friday, but by 2pm the rising tide refloated them to swim freely. There were no further reports of their stranding.
British Marine Divers Life Rescue (BMDLR) were alerted to the situation, and although they have no trained volunteers in Uist, could have helped if necessary. They passed the news on to the Scottish Marine Animal Strandings Scheme (SMASS), which also kept in touch with local volunteers.
The three animals stayed on the east side of the causeway, showing no inclination to pass through to the west, though at times they were close to the bridge. They also went over towards Sgeir an Fhèidh, and latterly further away towards the open waters of the Minch.
Generally’ they seemed to be swimming about quite calmly, showing no signs of distress, with only the upper parts of the head and back visible as they rose to breathe. The single animal was observed ‘spy hopping’ occasionally and also vigorously tail slapping.
By the morning of Wednesday 17th our visitors had departed.
News had got around quickly and over their few days’ stay, the dolphins attracted a lot of attention from residents and passing summer visitors, who gathered on the causeway to watch them, hoping they would be all right.
Many people contributed to this note, not least Chris Brooks, Peter Keiller and Donald Iain Campbell, who had very helpful observations, photographs and video sequences, Mariel ten Doeschate of SMASS for discussion of the species and age of the calf, Dan Jarvis of BMDLR, Mary Margaret Morrison, who saw them from her bus and other residents for keeping in touch and reporting their observations, and David Steele for his observations in the Minch.
Photos by Peter Keiller and Carla Brooks
Uist Community Tree Nursery plans for home grown saplings
Stòras Uibhist, Tagsa Uibhist and the Woodland Trust are working together to create the Uist Community Tree Nursery. A trial project to grow 1,000 native trees is now underway with the expectation that the young trees will be planted out next Spring.
The ‘mini-plug’ trees were hand delivered by tree guru, Craig Shearer, whose work for the Woodland Trust supports smaller nurseries and seed-collection ‘hubs’ throughout Scotland. Craig spent a July afternoon at Tagsa Uibhist, imparting his expert knowledge and devising a care plan to nurture the plants. The young trees will be looked after and closely monitored by Tagsa Uibhist staff and volunteers, with the main concern being keeping them safe from the hungry East Camp rabbits.
Viv Halcrow, Croft Woodlands Adviser for Uist and Barra said: “It is inspiring to see such high interest in establishing small areas of native trees on crofts and in the community. These will fit in with other crofting activity, benefit wildlife, add a missing dimension to the landscape, and maybe most importantly, provide shelter for stock, housing, and people!”
The opportunity for the new nursery project came about through Viv’s project work, which highlighted that the considerable demand for trees in Uist was being hampered by significant challenges with the supply chain: “Through the six years of the Croft Woodland Project, we have had to bring practically all the planting stock from the mainland. I’ve always felt that an island nursery would make a lot of sense, as we can use seed from local trees, reduce transport costs and delays, and ultimately, hopefully, the nursery could become a small business opportunity”.
Once the trial has completed, the hope is to scale up to producing 10,000 trees per year with the majority being supplied to the Woodland Trust for local projects and the remainder being made available for people to purchase directly from Tagsa Uibhist.
Olli MacLennan, Community Gardens Manager at Tagsa Uibhist said: “Trialling a Uist Tree Nursery within Tagsa Community Gardens’ existing infrastructure and utilising the current skeleton staff and site grounds is a logical approach to setup for us, allowing us to monitor and record required maintenance needs, time, and resources to estimate future commitments for scaling up to 10,000 seedlings/saplings. It’s an exciting step for us in Community Gardens, with a team made up of dedicated growers, and a real privilege to work in collaboration with Stòras Uibhist and the Woodland Trust.”
Tagsa Uibhist Chief Executive Chris MacLullich said: “In Tagsa we see this as a fantastic opportunity for our volunteers and Community Gardens team to work together on a meaningful project that will improve the environment in which we live in Uist. It’s a great collaboration and will be part of the Uist response to the climate emergency. These trees will sequester carbon over their lifetime and contribute to mitigating global heating. We hope to scale up after a successful first year”.
Stòras Uibhist has been closely involved with setting up the trial and will be planting the 1,000 trees out across the estate in Spring 2023. Darren Taylor, Chief Executive: “We are delighted to be collaborating with Tagsa Uibhist and the Woodland Trust on this brilliant project that will bring so much community benefit.”
Late summer butterflies
Red Admiral, Painted Lady, Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock (known collectively as vanessids) must be amongst our most familiar butterflies and can regularly be seen taking nectar from late flowering summer plants such as marsh thistle, devil’s-bit scabious and buddleja
All four species occur in the Outer Hebrides. Red Admiral and Small Tortoiseshell are the ones you are most likely to see. Painted Lady is a long distant migrant than can occur in their thousands in good years but is hardly recorded at all in other years. The Peacock is less predictable but perhaps under recorded here and is maybe a recent colonist or re-colonist. For all of them, the nectar they consume in late summer and early autumn is vitally important in helping them survive the winter. It’s all about building reserves of body fat.
Two of our species over-winter here as adults and they need those reserves to survive their hibernation during the cold months. As temperatures drop in autumn Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock butterflies seek out sheltered hibernation sites in woodpiles, sheds and other outbuildings and even inside our houses. The reserves laid down in late summer keep them ticking over until temperatures start to rise again in spring.
For the other two species, Red Admiral and Painted Lady, the reserves are for more immediate use. Both species are long distance migrants and they need energy for their return migrations. The earliest sightings of these species are from late march and early April. These individuals may have been carried here by strong winds directly from overwintering sites in North Africa. Later sightings in June and July are probably from intermediate generations that bred somewhere in Europe. The arrival, here, of most of these butterflies in spring is an example of a “multi-generational long distance migration”. They may have had one, two or three generations en route before they get to us.
What happens to those Red Admiral and Painted Lady butterflies we see in August? It used to be thought that many of these butterflies, seen in the UK in late summer, simply died. For them, it was a one-way trip. We now know differently. Entomologists using vertical looking radar have been able to look at the movements of insects to and from the UK. This type of radar is very sensitive and has been used to look at movement of plant pests such as aphids as well as larger insects. Radar studies on the movement of butterflies such as the Painted Lady and Red Admiral have given us the real picture.
In 2009, one of the biggest Painted Lady migrations of recent years, it is estimated that 11 million of them arrived in the UK. Some of these made their way to the Outer Hebrides. Over the UK as a whole they had a successful breeding year and an estimated 22million left the UK in autumn. Flying at heights between 200m and 1200m they headed for North Africa. Winds at these heights are 4-8 times faster than at ground level and butterflies can reach speeds of 100kph (approx. 60mph) and accomplish flights of 1000km with ease. If you are lucky enough to spot a Painted Lady nectaring on a marsh thistle in late summer, just think, it’s next stop for food might be in North Africa.