Don’t Let The Butterflies Flutter By: 4 Ways to Help Butterflies
Back in the summer, we took part in the Big Butterfly Count, the world’s largest butterfly survey organised every year by Butterfly Conservation. After downloading the App, the kids and I spent 15 minutes one lunchtime counting butterflies in our garden. We saw a lot of Large Whites (or Cabbage Whites as we know them), so much so that it was hard to know if we had already counted them! Other than that, we recorded a few Tortoiseshells, Peacocks and Commas (a new butterfly for me) enjoying the flowers in our garden.
In September the results of the Big Butterfly Count were released. Despite a record number of people taking part and a warm, sunny summer, butterfly numbers were found to be 34% lower than 2019. The survey also recorded the lowest average number of butterflies per count since 2010.
These figures could be due to an increased number of inexperienced participants (us included!) in the survey or the unusually warm spring, which meant that many species had already emerged when the count took place in July and August. But coming hot on the heels of recent warnings from both the UN and the WWF about the global ecological crisis, the results are somewhat worrying.
So, what can we do to help butterflies? Here are a few simple ideas to encourage butterflies to your garden, balcony or window box:
1. Grow Nectar-Rich Flowers
You don’t have to have green fingers to grow butterfly friendly plants. Just clear a bit of ground or fill a pot, get a packet of wildflower seeds or mixed annuals (like marigolds, cornflowers etc.) and sow! You can sow these seeds in autumn or spring, but it’s probably best to check on the packet. Don’t worry about the soil quality, these flowers flower best in poor soil. Give them a drink at the start if it’s very dry, but other than that, leave them to it. The beauty of wildflowers is that you don’t even need to weed; weeds are wildflowers too!
2. Let The Grass Grow
To have butterflies, you need caterpillars, and even a metre wide strip of long grass will provide vital habitat for caterpillars. So, give the mower a rest and let your grass grow. If you’re lucky enough to have some brambles or nettles, even better! Caterpillars and butterflies love them!
3. Create Shelter
Butterflies and caterpillars need shelter too. A few shrubs, a small tree or a hedgerow are ideal. If you only have room for one larger plant, why not get a Buddleia a.k.a. the butterfly bush? These purple flowering shrubs will grow anywhere. You often see them growing along train tracks or in cracks in walls. They are incredibly tough and can be happily neglected or cut back completely. And most importantly, buddleia is loved by butterflies, bees and other pollinators.
4. Avoid Pesticides
This is perhaps an obvious one – the harmful chemicals used in pesticides to kill aphids and other pests will also kill butterflies and caterpillars. Instead, encourage more wildlife to your garden and natural predators, like ladybirds, will take care of the aphids.
Not only will these actions help butterflies, they will also be beneficial to other wildlife!