Butterflies of Dorset – I have kindly been lent by a friend, a handful of original books solely regarding or with notes of, the Butterflies of Dorset: - Lepidoptera of Dorset by C.W Dale (1886) - Natural History of British Butterflies by Edward Newman, F.L.S., F.Z.S - New Atlas of Dorset Butterflies by Jeremy Thomas, Richard Surry, Bill Shreeves & Carolyn Steele (1998)
Starting with a species I have already mentioned in regards to its situation in the neighbouring county of Hampshire, the Comma (Polygonia c-album) was from early records, a widespread and locally common species in the early nineteenth century. This is confirmed by C.W Dale in Lepidoptera of Dorset (1886) who referring to his father’s notes, lists the species as having been ‘formerly in plenty in Glanville's Wootton’. This time of ‘plenty’ was quickly met with an extensive period of dramatic and rapid decline in the years between 1830 and 1840, then in 1886, C.W Dale wrote that ‘none have been seen since 1816’ in the Glanville's Wootton area. The book's introduction includes a list of ‘long extinct butterflies’ where the butterfly is listed along with Aporia crataegi. The New Atlas of Dorset Butterflies (1998) states that only two, single sightings were recorded up until 1910. From this point onward, the phase of recovery began throughout the years 1910-1920 where, although small in quantity, sightings were nevertheless, increasing. These new Dorset sightings began along the ‘north-west borders’ and staggeringly, by 1930, it had recovered much of its former range. A bump in the road came, to the fear of enthusiasts, when in the 1940’s-1960’s, the Comma faced a noticeable drop in numbers, a scenario mirrored in Hampshire to the fear of enthusiasts.
Thankfully, its numbers remained at a steady level and in the New Atlas of Dorset Butterflies (1998) it was described as occurring in ‘low numbers’ which lead to it being often overlooked, however was most likely to be seen ‘in wooded districts of Blackmoor vale’ but overall, largely unrecorded and quite scarce in western Dorset, ‘between Dorchester and Cranborne’. Today, its numbers are doing well and I have photographed it in many localities and gardens and is generally a common insect.
High Brown Fritillary (Argynnis Adippe): A species that was once considered by some to be 'widely distributed and sometimes locally common' but was largely a rare butterfly here in Dorset throughout the 19th Century and up until the mid 1950's. C.W Dale (1886) gave the following localities for it: Elsington Wood, Bere Wood, Glanvilles Wootton, Caundle Holts and Cranborne. After this period, its numbers fell into a rapid decline, Butterflies of Dorset (1984) describing that just one colony survived in woods near Hilton. Sadly A. Adippe is now completely absent from the county and was some time ago added to the extinct species of Dorset.
Wood White (Leptidea sinapis): C.W Dale, using notes of his fathers, wrote in 1886 that the species was 'scarce in Purbeck'...does not appear on Portland... but is frequently taken in the wooded districts of the county'. By the turn of the century however, the butterfly declined to such an extent that it was labelled as 'extremely rare' with only three surviving colonies remaining. One of these surviving colonies disappeared by 1984 and by the 1990's it held on at just one particular locality, Powerstock. This well known colony at Powerstock was the result of an introduction of 9 adult L. sinapis in 1974 and a further 5 in 1976, the livestock itself was sourced from one of the other two colonies that kept going at the time. This population at Powerstock later expanded, to nearby Kingcombe, to the delight of all those involved where the numbers were small but stable. Now in 2015, the species is presumed to be extinct after years of sparse sightings and more recently, in 2014, complete absence. There is a chance that the butterfly could return to the county from a neighbouring Devon colony, situated on the under-cliffs, just west of Lyme Regis.
Interesting posts on the literature and butterflies of Dorset. I believe the Lepidoptera of Dorset by C.W. Dale is a scarce work.
The comma - polygonia c-album contraction of its range within the British Isles to the Welsh borders and its expansion again thoughout England, Wales and Southern Scotland is one of the great mysteries of British butterflies . I believe this has never been fully explained. A very interesting butterfly with its lovely golden form hutchinsoni and its remarkable camouflage when at rest produced by its ragged wings. I have even heard non butterfly people remark, " oh look at that tatty butterfly "until I have explained that this is its normal appearance. To celebrate this wonderful and thankfully now common Nymphaidae, here are a few of my favourite images.
Its certainly an intriguing story Peter and the range expansion since the days of scarcity and local extinctions has been extraordinary, its often hard to imagine now, large areas of countryside where the Comma was once non-existent.
Its shape and camouflage is superb and I too have heard, on a number of occasions, passers by questioning the ragged appearance of the butterfly and those who did not know, are often amazed when you point out the species natural appearance. Beautiful selection of photographs!