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Make next year a ‘butterfly summer’

Butterflies: Numbers are dramatically falling
Butterflies: Numbers are dramatically falling

WE NEED to make next summer a ‘butterfly summer’ – and we need to start work right now.

As a reaction to the grim picture painted by this year’s Big Butterfly Count of dramatically falling numbers, experts at the National Botanic Garden of Wales are urging everyone to play their part to protect these important pollinators.

Dr Natasha de Vere, Head of Science and Education, said: “We must act now to make next summer a ‘butterfly summer’ and the good news is that there is lots we can all do in our own back yards to help.

“Buy the right shrubs and, if you are getting your seeds and bulbs now, make sure you focus on buying butterfly-friendly annuals and perennials.”

Natasha added: “It is, though, really all about the caterpillars.

“The adult butterfly stage of the lifecycle can often be short-lived – colourful, crucial, but very short. They spend the majority of their lives as caterpillars so providing them with plenty of ‘food plants’ is going to be crucial.”

She explained that the different species of butterfly require different ‘food plants’ for their larvae (caterpillars). It is important to recognise the beautiful butterflies that we all love to see in our gardens in summer are just one part of a very important cycle.

“One vital lesson we have learned working in our brand new tropical Butterfly House,” said Natasha, “is that we have to pay very close attention to all the stages if we are going to make it a success. It’s going really well with the exotic species with hundreds of butterflies on the wing at the same time.

“For our native species, we are continuing to plant butterfly-friendly plants in key areas of the Garden and trying to get used to gardening a little less tidily to encourage the different species, some which like long grass to lay their eggs and some like nettles, for instance.”

Another very important message is that we need to avoid using insecticides in our gardens, she added.

Top ten plants to ensure a butterfly summer:

  • Buddleia (the butterfly bush)
  • Verbena bonariensis
  • Lavender
  • Perennial Wallflower (Bowles Mauve)
  • Marjoram (Oregano)
  • Thistle, sorrel, dock and nettle
  • Lady’s Smock
  • Nasturtium
  • Honesty
  • Ivy

Top ten tips to make a butterfly-friendly garden:

  • Grow lots of nectar-rich flowers between March and November.
  • Choose different plants to attract a wider variety of species. Place the same types of plant together in blocks.
  • Prolong flowering by deadheading flowers and watering well. Well-watered plants produce more nectar.
  • Grow caterpillar food plants for butterflies and moths.
  • Let an area of grass grow long.
  • Allow a patch of ‘weeds’, such as dandelion and bird’s-foot-trefoil, to flourish.
  • Leave bare patches of wall, fence or earth, or place large stones in sunny borders, so butterflies can bask.
  • Create a shelter-belt of trees, plant a mixed, native hedge, which will protect butterflies and moths from the wind.
  • Grow climbing plants up walls and fences, where butterflies and moths can shelter from the rain and frost.
  • Make a log pile, where butterflies and moths can hibernate. Some moths breed in dead wood, too.

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Dayne Stone

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