The wings of (climate) change

A Red Admiral among snowdrops confirms Britian's warming climate

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A Red Admiral butterfly rests among flowering snowdrops in a Dorset churchyard. It is a sight that would have been impossible just a few years ago.

Until about 15 years ago, Red Admirals were summer migrants to Britain. But, with a warming climate and earlier springs, they have increasingly over-wintered in the south. This picture, taken by Dr Martin Warren, chief executive of Butterfly Conservation, is, he says, "real proof that the climate is changing".

The species does not fully hibernate, but will be seen on any day when conditions are right. Well into November it can be seen refuelling on the nectar of late-flowering plants such as ivy and Michaelmas daisies while also hanging drowsily about orchards, where fallen fruit ferments temptingly on the ground.

And, in mid-winter, oblivious to the calendar, it will wake and take wing on any day warm enough to heat up its body. Its hunger for nectar will make it search out early blooming plants and trees. Hence, says Dr Warren, its appearance in the delightfully named Turner's Puddle churchyard on the Isle of Purbeck, flitting from snowdrop to snowdrop.

Not surprisingly, a Red Admiral was the first British butterfly spotted in 2008, turning up in Kent, on New Year's Day.

Other species already seen on the wing are: Peacock (Leicestershire, 6 Jan); Brimstone (Wiltshire, 8 Jan); Painted Lady (Hampshire, 25 Jan); Small Tortoiseshell (Yorkshire, 25 Jan); Comma (Sussex, 26 Jan); Speckled Wood (Devon, 26 Jan); and Small White (Hants, 8 Feb).

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