Hampstead Heath butterfly numbers soar thanks to the hot weather

PUBLISHED: 09:15 24 August 2018 | UPDATED: 09:15 24 August 2018

A common blue butterfly amongst wildflowers on Hampstead Heath. Picture: City of London

A common blue butterfly amongst wildflowers on Hampstead Heath. Picture: City of London


Hampstead Heath’s butterfly population has been the big winner during this summer’s heatwave, says the City of London Corporation (CoLC).

A purple hairstreak butterfly. Picture: City of LondonA purple hairstreak butterfly. Picture: City of London

While the rest of us were either loving or hating the protracted sunny weather, the winged creatures have been seen in unprecedented numbers.

Adrian Brooker, an ecologist who works for CoLC on the Heath, said: “Although the heatwave has presented management challenges, the recent hot spell has seen good numbers of butterflies around the Heath this year.”

He told Heathwatch the boost to the range of butterflies had also been helped by more wildflowers having been planted on the Heath over the past couple of years.

He added: “Less than 10 years ago, the common blue butterfly was a rarity on Hampstead Heath with only a few seen each year.

A banded demoiselle dragonfly on the boating lake. Picture: City of LondonA banded demoiselle dragonfly on the boating lake. Picture: City of London

“Since the establishment of numerous wildflower meadows across the Heath, with plantings of its caterpillar foodplant Bird’s-foot trefoil, numbers have been on the increase.

“Although the dry weather has impacted the growth of some of these seedlings, it was possible to see more than 20 common blue butterflies on wildflower patches above the boating pond this year.”

More unique butterflies have been spotted on the Heath, too, Adrian said.

“Sightings of the usually high-canopy dwelling purple hairstreak have also increased, as well as records of silver-washed fritillary and marbled white butterfly.

“The infrequent visiting but beautiful banded demoiselle damselfly was seen investigating the new planting at the boating pond, along with another seven species of dragonflies.”

Meanwhile, some slightly larger creatures have flourished in the warmer weather, too.

Adrian explained that a species of waterbird is breeding on the Heath for the first time in years – but, rather than nesting where you might expect (or where conservationists probably intended), it has chosen to take advantage of the new kit in the boating pond.

He said: “Great crested grebes have successfully bred on the boating pond this year for the first time in many years, although actually choosing to nest upon one of the newly installed aerators as opposed to the extensive new plantings.”

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