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female

GATEKEEPERS
IN
CUMBRIA


In the late 1980's the GATEKEEPER was something of a rarity in Cumbria, being confined to a number of colonies on the west coast. For example it could only be reliably found in South Lakeland around Askham-in-Furness.

Now it can be found everywhere across the Furness Peninsula, widely across the south and west of the county and inland as far north as Appleby. It is a species that has clearly taken the opportunity provided by warmer summers to expand its range enormously. This vivacious medium-sized butterfly always brings to mind sunny days in high summer, as its flight time is late July and early August and its habitat is generally warm sunny roadsides with plenty of bramble in the hedgerows.

Its alternative name of Hedge Brown is perhaps more descriptive, but it is nothing like as romantic as Gatekeeper. This is one of the species where sexes are easy to distinguish, as can be seen in the photos above. The male (on the right) is somewhat smaller and has a dark brown scent bands across each forewing.

Eggs are laid in grasses and at the base of shrubs in sites that will offer warmth and nectaring plants for the adults. Bramble is popular because it flowers over a long period at the flight time and it is an open flat-topped flower - the Gatekeeper has a very short proboscis. Around the Furness Peninsula the species is so common that it is now found in unlikely places where the habitat doesn't look typical. It can be found all over Birkrigg Common to the south of Ulverston, including around the trig. point on the summit. Here there isn't much shelter and little besides bracken but there is a terriffic view on a clear day!

My most unusual sighting was of a female Gatekeeper on Mawthwaite Moss in the south-west Cumbrian foothills. This specimen was within 5 metres of a stream hosting the Golden-ringed dragonfly, a species more noted for cooler fellsides than warm sunny spots.

Although not a scientific survey, the maps below show just how much the Gatekeepr has exploded into the Furness Peninsula in the last ten years. The maps compare the tetrads where I found Gatekeepers in 1995 and in 2005:-