When you hear the phrase ‘Brownfield Site’, you may think of somewhere that is dirty and polluted with little or no wildlife. However, many brownfield sites (which means any piece of land which was previously developed or built on) on Teesside are actually wildlife havens with a great diversity of wild plants, birds, mammals and insects.
One group of creatures which often does really well on brownfield land is the butterflies. A lot of ex-industrial land has become nutrient-poor grassland, which usually means it is quite diverse in terms of plant species. Many insects, butterflies included, rely on particular plant species for their larvae to feed, so this means that the more diverse the flora on a site, the more insect species you are likely to find there.
As the title of this article implies, many of our grassland butterflies are various shades of brown, although often with orange, beige and black bits in there too. This is probably so that they are harder for predators to see, particularly in later summer when they are camouflaged against the dry grass in which they live.
If you walk through any area of long grass in July and August you are quite likely to see several species of butterfly including Meadow Brown, Large Skipper, Small Skipper, Small Heath and the lovely Ringlet. However, if you go to a few special sites such as Maze Park in Middlesbrough, or South Gare in Redcar, any time from the beginning of July onwards, you might be lucky enough to one of our less common species – the Grayling butterfly.
In other parts of Europe there are several species of Grayling (many quite similar looking) but in Britain and Ireland we have only one and so it is just known as The Grayling without an adjective in the name (such as Wood, Baltic, Tree or False, which are given to other species of Graylings).
Our Grayling is a master of camouflage which loves thinly vegetated areas with lots of bare ground on which it often rests. While it is resting it can be almost impossible to see unless you know exactly where it is, but they do fly up when disturbed. If you are in Maze Park, or South Gare or a similar area of coastal grassland with bare ground, and see a medium-sized brown butterfly fly up off the ground and fly a short distance, keep an eye on where it lands and try, carefully, to get a closer view of it – you may have found your first Grayling.