This week is Small Blue Butterfly Week across Scotland, with voluntary action by enthusiasts in Aberdeenshire, Moray, Irvine, Caithness and the borders. About a third of the world’s butterfly species belong to the blue family, that includes the hairstreaks, the Northern Brown Argus and coppers - other small butterflies with striking metallic colours. Many of these frail gems have an intimate relationship with ants. The large blue butterfly became extinct in Britain in 1979 but thanks to a major effort involving taking stock of its dependence on ants, was re-introduced and currently survives precariously in England. To date attempts to reintroduce the large copper, for which the last British record was in 1864, have failed.

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A sign in Nairn mentions that the small blue is a size that would fit on a penny.

By contrast with the restricted range of some of the 20 or so blues in Britain, the Small Blue has a distribution that spans from the Caithness coast to the south west of Ireland. Despite this it has been described as "rare in almost every region it inhabits". This is so in the Cairngorms National Park. Here inStrathspey, unlike other parts of Scotland, we can boast having an inland, rather than coastal, population of Small Blue. Vital to the survival of the Small Blue is the foodplant Kidney Vetch, on which the caterpillars entirely depend. This plant with attractive yellow flowers seems to be a favourite for other insects, like bumblebees.

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A bumblebee visits kidney vetch at a flower rich site supporting small blue in Strathspey.

During Small Blue Butterfly Week hopes are high that members of the public will spot and report sightings of Small Blue. Good places to look are where the vital food plant kidney vetch is growing in sheltered sunny spots. The 2002 Cairngorms Local Biodiversity Action Plan identifies calcareous, neutral and acid grassland as habitat for the small blue, but unfortunately delivering better conservation in the face of damaging land use change for these grasslands remains somewhat fraught with challenges.

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The upper wings of a female small blue here on a flower of bird's foot trefoil in Strathspey are dark in colour.

Those wishing to see Small Blue this week but not having luck in Strathspey could consider a trip to some of the undeveloped dune slacks along the Morayshire coast, in places like Nairn that boasts around 20 butterfly species. If Morayshire is too far, the Landmark Centre at Carrbridge has a butterfly house with many colourful South American butterflies to admire. However, as the blue family is tricky to propagate in captivity it is not one of the butterfly families on show in this new butterfly house.

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A male small blue in Strathspey has wings that show some blue scales.

Teamwork on the outskirts of the ‘Forest Village’ of Nethybridge has delivered a successful conservation outcome for attractive pinewood plants. Recognizing that two kinds of wintergreen were at risk along a verge earmarked for the laying of a broadband cable, BSCG volunteers marked the plants with high visibility tape enabling contractors A. Willox & Sons to take the cable along a route that skirted the wintergreens.

Complimenting the teamwork with A Willox & Son, Dr Deborah Long, Head of Plantlife Scotland said, ‘This is a really good example of all the benefits that can be achieved when local conservation groups work with contractors. The wintergreens are a group of beautiful flowers that are highly characteristic of our native pinewoods. It is heartening to see their conservation as a key part of road verge management, which is sensitive enough to avoid harm to these plants, securing a stronger future for them in the National Park.’

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The team at the roadside.

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The temporary marker tape in position.

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Wintergreen flowers.

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The River Spey and its tributaries is a European conservation site for otters and is vulnerable to major new developments.

Otters dependant on the River Spey and its tributaries may be facing growing problems in the Cairngorms National Park. A report soon to be published by SNH could shed light on how otters are faring in the River Spey Special Area of Conservation in Badenoch & Strathspey.

Threats to otters include climate change, habitat degradation and fragmentation linked to development, human disturbance and road traffic accidents. A 26% human population increase over 20 years is forecast in the Cairngorms National Park as a result of the National Park Authority’s controversial housing development proposals. This increase is likely to add to pressures on otters. (See ).

Otters, which feed in minor drainage ditches and small burns and pools as well as larger water bodies, are vulnerable to declines in amphibians and fish stocks. Eels, which can be a staple prey for otters, have suffered alarming declines in recent years, and extreme weather events can lead to the loss of river-bank trees used as retreats by resting otters.

To help otters we need to know more about which areas are important for mothers with cubs. This is especially so as natal holts, where cubs are born and spend their first few months, can be well away from rivers. Perhaps surprisingly, woodlands can be particularly important places for natal holts.

BSCG has long been concerned that woodlands are under major pressure in the Cairngorms National Park from development and recreation, and this could be critical for otters. BSCG is working with others to draw attention to threats to otters and has been helping the International Otter Survival Fund and Cardiff University by collecting otters found dead and sending them for analysis that includes measuring pollutants.BSCG is always interested to hear of otters found dead.

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A letter about otters at a threatened site in Strathspey.

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Otter tracks in sand by the River Spey.

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Naturalist Bobby Tulloch shared his experiences of watching otters in a book published in 1994 by Colin Baxter.

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Otters are vulnerable to road traffic accidents.

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Otter tracks in snow on a small lochan at a threatened site in Strathspey.

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An unexpected visitor put in an appearance at an evening talk in one of Nethybridge’s most well known buildings last Friday. The visitor an adventurous young swallow flew in through the open door during a public talk entitled 'Spiders in the web of life in the Cairngorms'. This illustrated talk by David Holloway of the Highland Spider Group was in the historic old kirk building on the outskirts of the village on the B970 near Castle Roy that is now looked after by the Old Kirk Association see

The old kirk has been the venue for a drop in exhibition on special wildlife of the Cairngorms organized by BSCG under the theme ‘Problems in Paradise’. Coinciding with the Year of Natural Scotland this has been celebrating some of the special and threatened wildlife of the Cairngorms. It showcases information on the top 26 list of species in the Cairngorms that the national park authority announced in May this year it has identified as in need of focussed conservation action in its 2013 – 2018 Cairngorms Nature Action Plan or CNAP. The CNAP successor to the 2002 Cairngorms Local Biodiversity Action Plan (LBAP) was launched by cabinet Secretary Richard Lochead in Aviemore in May over 10 years after the LBAP.

By overnighting in the rafters of the kirk it seems the young swallow made history. The visit for the youngster finally ended the following morning after the doors in the building were reopened when to mutual relief the swallow at last figured out a way to freedom by flying low enough to exit through a specially opened side door in the building. Our thanks are due to the Old kirk Association who kindly showed up to open up the building after the young swallow's unscheduled overnight stay.

The 'Problems in Paradise' exhibition continues until Tuesday in the Old Kirk when it will be open between midday and 5pm. The concluding talk, the 4th this month will be by Dr Tim Poole and is the first to concentrate entirely on a species in the top 26 list that includes 3 birds It is entitled 'The Capercaillie a flagship for Scotland’s pinewoods' and is scheduled for 8Pm on Monday 22nd July. Admission is free refreshment will also be available and all are welcome but hopefully no swallows will be reappearing inside the building.

A Report by CNPA Ecologist Dr David Hetherington (released by the CNPA on 7 July 2013) is making news. See:

BSCG welcomes the release of this report yet remains highly concerned that the Park Authority is failing to properly look after the important species and habitats that are key features of the Cairngorms today. Regrettably, the Park Authority is still approving and allocating controversial developments that impact on Scotland's most endangered species such as wildcat, capercaillie and freshwater pearl mussel. Nearly half of the species in the 2013 Cairngorms Nature Action Plan Top 26 list of species in need of urgent conservation action, stand to be impacted on in this way. The Cairngorms National Park supports 25% of the UK's threatened animal and plant species as well as 25% of Scotland's native woodlands.

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As a token of appreciation for his outstanding contribution to conservation BSCG on Wednesday 19 June presented a framed photo of the Aspen Hoverfly, one of the most celebrated rare hoverflies in the UK, to Alan Stubbs. The occasion was the opening of the Alan Stubbs library at the English headquarters of Buglife in Peterborough.
Alan Stubs, who is on the board of Trustees of Buglife the Invertebrate Conservation Trust, wrote ‘British Hoverflies’ an illustrated identification guide. This landmark guide first published by the British entomological Society in 1983, and republished in an expanded form in 2002, has successfully encouraged people across the UK to take a detailed interest in hoverflies. These attractive and astonishingly agile creatures are in their life styles one of the most diverse and fascinating groups of insects. They are rightly considered valuable indicators of environmental health and it is now appreciated they play important ecological roles including for example in pollination of plants once thought to be entirely wind pollinated.
The photo taken earlier this month by BSCG member Tim Ransom while searching for hoverflies in Badenoch and Strathspey with Buglife entomologist Steven Falk , illustrator of the landmark 1983 British hoverfly book, is of an aspen hoverfly initially spotted visiting flowers of bird cherry at Insh Marshes National Nature Reserve. Few naturalists have been privileged to see this rare insect in the wild where it is even more rarely subject of such a detailed close up portrait.
As Alan Stubs explained after the presentation this sizeable orange hoverfly (Hammerchmidita feruginea) is a flagship species for a number of other endangered species that like it depend on decaying wood in a few areas where relatively sizeable stands of aspen survive in Badenoch and Strathspey.
The aspen hoverfly With the pine hoverfly Blera fallax both features within the top list of 26 species identified by the CNPA in the Cairngroms Nature Action Plan as requiring focussed conservation attention between 2013 and 2018.
Alan Stubs who played a key role in establishing Buglife has also written a book on British Soldier Flies and is currently engaged in a work on British craneflies.