Horseshoe Butterfly Transect: A Story of Success

Posted by Rob Greenwood on 15/10/2020
Main Wall at Horseshoe Quarry.

Finally, some happy news! In a joint venture between BMC and Butterfly Conservation volunteers, Horseshoe Quarry’s butterfly population has – for the first time ever – been monitored over an entire season.

Horseshoe Quarry will be familiar to a great many climbers as the Peak District’s premier mid-grade sport climbing venue; however, it is also a Site of Specific Scientific Interest (SSSI). Owned and managed by the BMC, there’s more to this post-apocalyptic wasteland than meets the eye: great crested newts live within its pond, orchids abound, fossilised coral exists within the quarry floor, there’s a hay meadow, a whole host of birds, and – of most relevance to this article – butterflies. 

In a joint venture between BMC and Butterfly Conservation volunteers, Horseshoe Quarry’s butterfly population has – for the first time ever – been monitored over an entire season. For consistency a fixed transect of six sections was walked on a weekly basis, from the beginning of April to the end of September. Due to the outbreak of COVID, and the lockdown which subsequently took place, monitoring didn’t begin until Week six (early May) as a result of both government advice and Butterfly Conservation guidelines; however, all other weeks were successfully recorded, with the exception of Week 10, which didn’t have a single day of good weather. To keep results consistent each of the volunteers follows the same route at the same pace and does so within the same set of parameters: temperature has to be above a certain level, as does wind speed and the percentage of sunshine.

Horseshoe Butterflies: Key Figures and Star Species

In total 24 different species of butterfly were seen out of a grand total of 773 sightings. To put this into context, Derbyshire only gets around half of the UK’s butterfly species, with a total of 32 being regularly seen (which makes Horseshoe’s 24 all the more impressive). Amongst the most numerous were the Meadow Brown (217), Ringlet (122) and Small Tortoiseshell (104); however, most interest were the sightings of less numerous, rare and endangerxed species. Of these, arguably the site’s ‘star species’ were the Dingy Skipper (36) and Wall Brown (14). 


Left: Mel Dyer and assistant Chloe surveying butterflies. Top right: The more conspicuous Wall Brown. Bottom right: The homely Dingy Skipper. 

The Dingy Skipper doesn’t necessarily have the most thrilling name, or the most exciting, colourful appearance, but its presence at Horseshoe is a positive for a species that has become increasingly rare throughout the UK in recent years. It is a Priority Species on the Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) and its Butterfly Conservation Priority status is High.

Top Tips: the Dingy Skipper only has a single brood, which comes out in May/June. They are a little underwhelming to look at and are easily missed, partly as a result of their almost moth-like appearance, so keep your eyes peeled, as they tend to flit around near the ground. 

The Wall – or ‘Wall Brown’, as it is commonly known – is a much more spectacular, albeit ephemeral butterfly. Its numbers have – much like the Dingy Skipper – declined rapidly and significantly in recent years and it also shares the same priority status.

Top Tip: the Wall Brown has two broods, the first of which come out in May/June and the other which comes out in August/September. Keep your eyes out on sunny days, where it frequently flies up amount the rock faces, basking on their surfaces.

When it comes to singletons, a number of individual species were spotted including the Comma, Holly Blue and Brown Argus. Future transects will no doubt reveal greater insight into their numbers at Horseshoe, but it is positive to see them – if only as individuals. The obvious omission for the site is the Dark Green Fritillary, which is known to be within nearby Coombs Dale, and has even been spotted as close as Electric Quarry at Stoney Middleton; however, despite having had the weather for it one has never been seen at Horseshoe. Once-again, future surveys will reveal whether or not the butterfly is indeed there, or if the site is lacking the suitable feeding plants and habitat to interest them.

WATCH: How to use Horseshoe Quarry on BMC TV

Where next?

Following on from the comments above, the next logical step is to continue to complete the transect throughout 2021, as this will provide greater insight. When transects are completed year after year, they also show trends, be that in population increases or declines.

Many thanks are required for those that have helped, but greatest of all are owed to Joanna and Peter Mackay + Mel Dyer who have helped to complete the transect and Ken Orpe, Butterfly Recorder for Derbyshire, for all all his help and guidance along the way. 

Horseshoe Butterfly Species List

  • Meadow Brown (217)
  • Ringlet (122)
  • Small Tortoiseshell (104)
  • Small Heath (48)
  • Dingy Skipper (36)
  • Large White (35)
  • Common Blue (32)
  • Large Skipper (26)
  • Unidentified White (17)
  • Peacock (16)
  • Small Copper (16)
  • Red Admiral (15)
  • Wall Brown (14)
  • Orange Tip (14)
  • Brimstone (12)
  • Gatekeeper (10)
  • Small White (10)
  • Speckled Wood (8)
  • Painted Lady (6)
  • Small Skipper (5)
  • Green Veined White (4)
  • Green Hairstreak (3)
  • Comma (1)
  • Holly Blue (1)
  • Brown Argus (1)

WATCH: Sport Climbing, Respect the Rock on BMC TV


We want to say a big thanks to every BMC member who continues to support us through the Coronavirus crisis.

From weekly Facebook Lives and GB Climbing home training videos, to our access team working to re-open the crags and fight for your mountain access, we couldn’t do it without you.

Did you know that we've just launched a new U27 membership offer for just £1 / month? And with full membership from £1.66 / month, it's never been easier to join and support our work: 

https://www.thebmc.co.uk/join-the-bmc-for-1-month-U27-membership


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