WITH their vibrant colours and delicate flutter as they flit from flower to flower, butterflies are often regarded as the definitive sign of summer.

Their dazzling, eye-catching shades of deepest orange, fiery red, cool blue and sunny yellow make them far more attractive to most people than their dreary moth cousins, despite their often pitifully brief lifespan being a sharp reminder of the frailty of nature.

However, concerns are mounting that catching a glimpse of even the most common of butterflies is rapidly becoming a challenge even in gardens rich in plants and flowers thought to be the most “butterfly friendly”. 

Experts say their loss is partly linked to “too tidy” gardens, where gardeners’ efforts to rid areas of unsightly stinging nettles and jaggy thistles – loathed by many but favourite food sources for some of the most common species – have left butterflies starving to death.

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Now, in an effort to capture a snapshot of how Scotland’s butterflies are faring – particularly the once common Small Tortoiseshell butterfly 
– nature enthusiasts across the country are being urged to take time to count the fluttery visitors to their gardens. 

As part of its annual butterfly count, wildlife charity Butterfly Conservation Scotland is calling for people to search the last remaining peatbog site in Edinburgh – and help monitor the butterfly population. 

The count within the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s Red Moss of Balerno reserve, coincides with another major drive to raise awareness of the pressures being faced by the natural world.

International Bog Day was yesterday marked around the world with a series of events aimed at raising awareness of the role peat bogs play in carbon capture, the wildlife and plants they support and the pressures on them from tree-planting, agriculture and pesticides. 

Events in Scotland were held at bogs ranging rom Loch Garten, Speyside, to Eaglesham, East Renfrewshire, and Dinnet in Aboyne, Aberdeenshire.

As well as playing a vital role in carbon capture, wild plants found on bogs attract winged insects, including native butterflies such as the Small Tortoiseshell. 

However, according to Butterfly Conservation Scotland, numbers of Small Tortoiseshells have suffered a 68 per cent decline across Scotland in the last 10 years.

Anthony McCluskey, urban butterfly project officer with Butterfly Conservation Scotland, said: “Most butterflies have lost habitats because of changes in how we farm and manage the countryside, but also in urban spaces.

“They lay eggs on nettles and thistles but gardens are becoming too tidy, gardeners are using pesticides to get rid of nettles because they don’t want them in their gardens. 

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“We can’t really expect people to actually go out and find nettles to grow in their gardens. But if they have nettles, if they could just keep a small patch and let them grow naturally, then it could help.”

However, he added that even gardeners who have made a point of growing “butterfly friendly” plants such as buddleia, lavender and sedum, have reported seeing few to no butterfly visitors.

“Some gardeners tell us they have buddleia bushes and, while they may have seen a few Red Admirals and Painted Ladies, which migrate from Africa and Europe, they have not seen a single native Small Tortoiseshell butterfly.”

The charity says it wants butterfly hunters to join a search for the Small Tortoiseshell and other species at Edinburgh’s last peatbog site tomorrow, as well as take part in its annual online Big Butterfly Count – the largest butterfly survey in the world.

David Hill, the charity’s peatland project officer, said: “The small tortoiseshell appears to be struggling everywhere, but we’ve seen a particularly worrying decline across Scotland.

“We don’t have any real knowledge as to why it is declining and that’s what really worries us. It could be climate change is having an effect, or the more widespread use of herbicides and pesticides and fertilisers.

“The foodplant of the small tortoiseshell is the nettle which, if anything, has become more common, which makes this butterfly’s decline even more perplexing.

“It’s aways worrying when a species is spiralling out of control, but we’ve had two not bad summers in a row so we are hopeful it will do bit better this year.

“Counting butterflies contributes to valuable research on how each species is faring and also helps us to piece together why declines are happening in the first place.”

The Edinburgh peat bog is the only lowland raised bog in the City of Edinburgh. As well as butterflies, it attracts dragonflies, damselflies and features special plants such as Sundew and Butterwort. 

It is hoped linking the event to International Bog Day will help raise awareness of the vital role peat bogs play in supporting the nation’s winged creatures and highlight the threats both habitat and wildlife are facing.

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Peat bogs are regarded as a crucial element in carbon capture, with efforts under way to have the sprawling Flow Country that stretches across Caithness and Sutherland, given World Heritage Site status.

Mr Hill added: “Many people do not know that our peat bogs are being destroyed, with three billion litres of peat sold each year as compost for 
our gardens, despite there being other peat-free options available for people to use. 

“Bogs provide a vital home for many beautiful butterflies and moths, as well as insect-eating plants and dragonflies, but they also store huge amounts of carbon, so are vital in the fight to tackle climate change. They also store water, which helps to reduce flooding risks.”

The Big Butterfly Count runs until August 11. Participants across the UK are asked to find a sunny spot and spend 15 minutes counting the butterflies they see and then submit their sightings online at www.bigbutterflycount.org or via the free Big Butterfly Count app.