Farm News  |   November 8, 2023

Butterfly Count at Lauriston Farm

Huw Pennell, volunteer with The Butterfly Conservation Trust, gives an update on the 2023 Butterfly Survey…

A collage of six butterflies

We started monitoring the butterfly population on the farm this year, in conjunction with The Butterfly Conservation Trust.

Huw Pennell, volunteer with The Butterfly Conservation Trust, explains how it worked and what we found out…


2.5 Kilometre Transect

I set up a Butterfly Transect on Lauriston Farm this summer to monitor the diversity and progress of the butterfly population over the coming years. The transect covers a 2.5 kilometre route around the farm. It is split into five segments to capture different local habitats and weather and help us understand the impact they have on butterfly numbers during the season. Three volunteers (Juliet, Wandrille and I) shared the task of walking the transect route once a week to count and record butterflies.

Key Numbers

total counts

We counted a total of 608 individual butterflies over the season, from 14 different species. The highest number recorded in a single count was 176 (in the week beginning 8th July).

Graphic of survey numbers - all info repeated in text

top five species

The most common species were Meadow Browns – we counted 263 over the season, which is 43% of the total number.
Next were Ringlets (115 = 19%), Small White (71 = 12%), Speckled Wood (51 = 8%) and Small Skipper (29 = 5%). Meadow Browns were also the largest number of a single species recorded on one walk (we recorded 81 flying on a single count).

graph of species - all info repeated in text

top three most regular flying butterflies

We counted Small Whites flying on 14 separate weeks, Red Admirals on 12 separate weeks, and Meadow Browns on 10 separate weeks.

flyers at either end of the season

The earliest recorded butterfly species were Orange Tip, Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock. The latest recorded butterfly species was the Red Admiral.


Key Insights

the importance of grassland and meadows

There are 35 species of resident and migratory butterfly species in Scotland, and Lauriston Farm is home to 14 of these (40%). This is a very encouraging number, considering many of these are very localised and habitat specific. Four of the most numerous butterflies on the Farm – the Meadow Brown, Ringlet, Speckled Wood and Small Skipper – rely on grasses as their key caterpillar food plant, while the thistle flowers and knapweed become major nectar magnets in the late summer. This highlights the importance of the grassland areas around the farm for the success and health of these species.

new species in Edinburgh

The Small Skipper is a recent arrival into Edinburgh, so it is particularly pleasing to see this being recorded on the Farm in relatively healthy numbers. The farm supports this butterfly by leaving areas of Yorkshire Fog grass uncut, as the larvae overwinter inside the stalks.

Another recording of note was of the Wall butterfly, which appeared in late summer and is another relatively recent arrival into Edinburgh and the Lothians.

We did not see any Holly Blues, which have been recorded elsewhere in and around Edinburgh, so it will be equally fascinating to see if this makes an appearance on the Farm in the next couple of years.

extending the recording season

We only officially set up for recording purposes from May of this year, which means some of the early flying butterflies such as Orange Tips, Peacocks and Small Tortoiseshells will have been under recorded. We are looking forward to seeing how these numbers develop with a full year of recording next year.

Huw Pennell, October 2023

Edinburgh Agroecology Coop would like to say a huge thank you to Huw Pennell for setting up the Transect, and to volunteers Juliet and Wandrille for working with Huw on the 2023 count. This valuable data will help us support butterfly life on the farm, as well as contributing to our understanding of butterfly species in Edinburgh. We look forward to continuing this work next season.

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