Local Recorder Profile #6 by Margaret Keith

In this short article, Margaret Keith writes about what motivates her to garden for wildlife and to record the species that visit her small garden on the coast in Newtonhill, between Aberdeen and Stonehaven. Hopefully her article may resonate with others and may also encourage others to get involved in wildlife recording. Photo by Margaret Keith.

I have had an interest in the natural world for as long as I can remember. I cannot remember a time in my life when I wasn’t absorbed in nature and filled with awe at the sheer beauty and wonder of the natural world around us. We live in such a beautiful part of the country in Aberdeenshire with so many different types of wildlife habitats right on our doorstep.

I spent my childhood in a coastal village and many happy hours were spent exploring rock pools, watching the blue butterflies flitting around the plants at the beach and following the sound of grasshoppers hoping to spot one. Happy times were also spent at Newburgh digging in the wet sand for wildlife and following strange footprints in the sand, while terns and gulls shrieked overhead and the eiders crooned in the river.

In my teens a friend gave me a present of a book on British butterflies and around the same time my elder sister invited a friend to stay for the weekend. Her husband was a keen Lepidopterist and we spent a happy time with them as he “painted” tree bark with juice and set up his moth traps to see what was in the area. The catch was duly identified early the next morning and everything set free. I was captivated. This fired my interest in moths and butterflies.

Moving to the house I presently live in at Newtonhill, I determined to make my garden count for wildlife. The garden was a blank canvas and I filled it with lots of nectar loving plants to encourage wildlife to come in, particularly butterflies and bees. I didn’t have to wait long. Soon butterflies started appearing in the garden and the air was filled with the buzzing of bees. I quickly learned that bumblebees don’t frequent the same types of flowers, as they have different preferences, different shaped heads and different lengths of tongues, so I gradually adjusted the flora in my garden to cater for different species.

Plants in my garden keep changing over the years. Plants I discover have little value for butterflies or bees have been gradually replaced with those that are. In addition to honeybees and solitary bees I have managed to attract 7 species of bumblebee so far: early bumblebee, garden bumblebee, red-tailed bumblebee, white-tailed bumblebee, buff-tailed bumblebee, common carder bee and a new arrival in 2021, the tree bumblebee. For those of us like me who live by the coast, salt tolerant plants are important.

Out of the 35 species of butterfly that breed in Scotland, 11 have visited my garden so far: the three whites (large, small and green-veined); the “Fab Four” (small tortoiseshell, red admiral, painted lady and peacock); and occasional visits from butterflies from the countryside – small copper, meadow brown, small pearl-bordered fritillary and dark green fritillary. It is always exciting when a different butterfly turns up.

I first started keeping spreadsheets of my butterfly and migratory moth visits in 2016 purely for my own interest so that I could check up when the peak times were. In 2019 I happened across the garden butterfly survey.org site and have since sent my records regularly to them. My garden bird results (the garden birds are my garden border patrol) bee and other wildlife recorded are sent in to garden birdwatch for the BTO.

The icing on the cake on any year is when hummingbird hawk moths come to visit, but they are only occasional visitors and do not visit every year. They are attracted by the flowering Buddleia. I also plant Nicotiana sylvestris (white flowered tobacco plant) hoping to attract them.

Even the smallest garden can support bees and butterflies. Many butterflies are appearing in gardens as open land is constantly being lost for house building. Edges of fields which previously provided habitat for butterflies and bees have disappeared due to highly efficient, farming machinery. By providing a wide variety of nectar rich plants in succession all year and by adopting an organic approach to gardening you, too, can do your bit for conservation and have a garden full of butterflies and bees.