Conservation project helps butterflies to thrive at Somerleyton rail station

Published on: Wednesday, 6 November 2019
Last updated: Wednesday, 6 November 2019

A Suffolk rail station has become a haven for a species of butterfly, thanks to the efforts of a local volunteer.

Sue Cox, who looks after Somerleyton station under Greater Anglia’s Station Adoption initiative, last year planted a Buckthorn hedge to help with Suffolk Butterfly Conservation’s Brimstone and Buckthorn project.

Alder and Common Buckthorn are the only food plants of the Brimstone Butterfly’s caterpillar, making them totally reliant on it for their survival.

Although not endangered, the Brimstone was once described as ‘scarce’ in East Suffolk and, along with all insects, saw a decline in its numbers due to habitat loss and the effects of climate change.

Image of butterfly, Credit: Matt Berry, Butterfly Conservation Trust

Credit: Matt Berry, Butterfly Conservation Trust

Sue commented, “We often see first generation Brimstone Butterflies here in early Spring, emerging from hibernation on a warm sunny day to look for nectar and mates. But we very rarely see the second generation.

“So I was rather pleased to see a very fresh, very green male Brimstone nectaring on the Wild Pea on the platform at the beginning of August.

“It wasn't until the evening that it occurred to me that the sighting was only a couple of feet from my Buckthorn hedge.

“The next morning, I was out as soon as it started to warm up, to see if I could find another individual. And there it was. Same place, but not nectaring. This one was so freshly emerged that it was still drying its wings – so it couldn't have come from anywhere else!

“I felt rather as though I'd pulled off a magic trick that I hadn't really believed in.”

Sue is keen for others to offer somewhere for butterflies to thrive. Often there is plenty of nectar in gardens to feed the adults - but not enough plants that can support egg laying or provide food for the caterpillars.

She says, “It actually works. You can support the population of this beautiful insect just by planting a short hedge.”

Greater Anglia’s Customer and Community Engagement Manager, Alan Neville, said, “It’s amazing what Sue has achieved at Somerleyton over the years, which has become a real haven - not only for the Brimstone Butterfly, but also many other creatures thanks to her efforts.

“She knows every plant on her platform and has encouraged plants which attract lots of different wildlife to provide a habitat for birds, small mammals and insects which at the same time looks stunning and provides a lovely first impression to people visiting the village by train.”

Julian Dowding, Secretary of Suffolk Butterfly Conservation, said “Individual actions can a really positive effect and can help to reverse the decline in insect populations. Buckthorns are also very good for Holly Blue and Green Hairstreak butterflies - as both of these also lay eggs upon them - and these plants also attract a wealth of bees, and hoverflies, some of them rare.”