How to help your garden butterflies and moths

Some of our butterflies and moths aren't doing too well at the moment, but you can do your bit by making your garden butterfly-friendly

Butterflies are vibrant, eye-catching additions to our gardens which conjure up images of sunshine, and the warmth and colour of flowery meadows. 

Britain has 59 species of butterfly and more than 2,500 types of moth. They are important pollinators and, along with caterpillars, are vital food for birds like robins and blue tits as well as bats. You may see garden birds taking caterpillars to feed their young in the spring and summer. It can take up to 10,000 caterpillars to rear a brood of blue tits!

Butterflies are good environmental indicators, so if their populations are going up or down we get a good sense of how well the rest of the environment is doing.

Unfortunately, butterflies and moths aren’t doing too well at the moment. Their habitats have faced catastrophic declines and once-common species like the small tortoiseshell have dropped by up to 80% in the last 30 years in some areas. 

The good news is that we can help butterflies and moths through gardening.

Small tortoiseshell butterfly

Small tortoiseshell by Amy Lewis

The Wildlife Trust’s Wild About Gardens campaign, run jointly with the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), is calling gardeners to get growing to help the UK’s falling numbers of butterflies and moths. Collectively our gardens can provide important places, homes and food sources for these special creatures.

Many flowers provide both pollen and nectar so will attract a range of visitors. Sometimes the clue is in the shape. Many flowers of the daisy family, such as sunflowers and asters, help to attract butterflies with their flat, open tops which are perfect for landing. Other flowers in the campion and honeysuckle families have narrow tubular centres, which moths and butterflies may have exclusive access to by making use of their long tongues.

An ideal butterfly garden has a wide variety of flowers throughout the year to support their life cycles – for butterflies and moths emerging from hibernation, egg laying females, caterpillars and then adults.

A good food supply is crucial to allow caterpillars to turn into adults, so the most valuable gardens leave plenty of room for these hungry young!

Early flowering species include dandelions, aubretia and native bluebells, which could be followed by buddleia and red valerian, wild flowers and long grass. Even some ivy is good to have as it flowers late into autumn. 

Painted lady

Painted lady butterfly on buddleia by Kate Dent

With many of their natural habitats under threat, consider rewilding an area of the garden to provide food and shelter for these fascinating insects or sacrificing a patch of plants – for example, a window box bursting with nasturtiums will help attract large white butterflies away from your cabbage crop.

The campaign draws inspiration from a new film adaptation of the Frances Hodgson Burnett classic, The Secret Garden, starring Colin Firth, Julie Walters and newcomer Dixie Egerickx as Mary Lennox. The film, which reveals an enchanted and boundless garden that has been hidden for years, will be bringing the magic of wildlife, childhood and gardening to the big screen later this year. Gardening plays an essential part in The Secret Garden which eases grief, heals rifts and brings the joy out in all who experience it.

The Wild About Gardens website provides information on how people can improve their gardens for wildlife, including gardening advice, activity ideas and species guides. You can also download our butterfly booklet which provides advice on creating a butterfly border, tips for making a butterfly garden box, as well as a guide to help you identify different species. 

Every butterfly garden counts 

The Wildlife Trusts would like to know about every new wild area, box or border that’s being grown for butterflies. Each garden contributes towards the network of green spaces that nature needs to survive.

Please pledge a bit of your garden for butterflies this year, and add it to the map at wildaboutgardens.org.uk

See more ways to make your garden wildlife-friendly

 

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