Some facts about butterflies and some tips on how to look after them.
|Many butterflies visit my garden in the UK countryside and I wanted to share some tips on looking after them to help other wildlife lovers. I am especially passionate about sharing my love of butterflies with others as, worryingly, during the last forty years many species have declined rapidly and this is a cause of conservation concern. One of the things that experts think is contributing to the decline in butterfly numbers is the lack of habitat. Fortunately, this is something we can all do something about.
One of the best and most enjoyable things you can do to help butterflies is planting flowers that the butterflies like as a source of nectar. Even if you only have a pot on a balcony or windowsill you can make a difference to butterflies by planting their favourite flowers. Some of the plants provide extra benefits to us humans as they are edible herbs. Plants that butterflies love to feed on include: scabious, marjoram, sage, buddleia, valerian, verbena, sedum, birdsfoot trefoil, broom, lady's smock, honesty and nasturtium. There are some lovely wildflower seed gift sets available and I have even seen birthday cards which can be planted and flower seeds will grow from the card, so consider a gift that gives a little love not only to someone dear to you but to the butterflies too.
A special butterfly house is well worth buying to offer the butterflies shelter in winter. I have a pretty teardrop shaped butterfly house hung on the summer house in the garden. Straw and small twigs can be placed in the roosting spaces in the butterfly houses to make them extra cosy and insulated for the butterflies in winter. There are also butterfly feeders available to buy which offer butterflies a sugar-rich drink to top up their energy reserves. You can make butterfly food with sugar dissolved in water, buy special butterfly nectar, or leave out slices of sweet fruit like melons, bananas, blackberries, strawberries, apples, oranges and peaches for the butterflies to feed on.
I would urge anyone who loves butterflies to leave a clump of nettles in a corner of their garden. Nettles are a food source for the caterpillars of many butterflies. I often see Small Tortoiseshell, Red Admiral and Peacock butterfly caterpillars living in the nettles in my garden. Rather than being a pest and a weed, nettles can be useful to humans. Gather young nettles tops in March and April before the caterpillars start eating them and use them to add to healthy omelettes and soups as the leaves are rich in iron. I wear marigold gloves to stop my fingers getting stung when I gather nettles – fortunately the sting disappears when they are cooked.
Another tip for keeping the butterfly population in your area healthy is to learn to identify the species of butterflies there and learn what plants are the food source for adults and caterpillars. That way you can try and protect and increase the number of these plants in your garden.
My favourite butterfly is the Peacock with its amazing colourful eyes of Mediterranean blue and heather pink. The eyes come as a burst of surprise when it opens its wings, which have their black undersides showing when the Peacock folds its wings. It is thought that the colourful eyes may deter predators. The caterpillars of the Peacock butterfly live on nettles or hops and the butterflies lay their eggs in May. The adults enjoy drinking the nectar from thistles, betony, bluebells, lady's smock, dandelions, teasels and buddleia.
Another beloved butterfly is the Brimstone which is one of the first to emerge in spring. I love to follow the first Brimstone and watch it dance its way over the garden, betokening that warmer weather is finally on its way. The buttery yellow wings of the male Brimstone make it look like a flying primrose flower. The female Brimstone can easily disguise herself as a leaf with her lemony-green leaf shaped wings. The larvae of the Brimstone feed on the leaves of buckthorn trees. The adults enjoy drinking nectar from teasel, bluebell and wallflower flowers. Brimstones like to hibernate in thick, undisturbed areas of vegetation, especially amongst ivy leaves.
I hope that my tips are useful for people wanting to enjoy the sight of butterflies in their lives. Butterflies are a source of beauty and happiness to me. This has been especially so during the last year when, like many people, I have spent more time in the garden during the lockdowns in the UK. It is inspiring to see the natural kingdom continue as normal even though many aspects of human life have been disrupted. I hope that the sight of a kaleidoscope of butterflies (the collective name for a group of butterflies) may be enjoyed for many years to come.