Saturday, 9 June 2012

Where are all the butterflies?

The weather just lately hasn't been particularly helpful to farmers, gardeners, holidaymakers or some of our wildlife.  Apart from today I've woken every morning to joyous birdsong and the dogs and I certainly see plenty of roe deer and muntjacks while we're out for walks, but honey bees and butterflies seem to be staying out of this unseasonably chilly weather.

On warmer days, I have spotted the odd orange-tip, some small blue butterflies and some larger brown ones (my butterfly identification needs working on...sorry) but this time last year, I swear they were a lot more prolific.

According to the Butterfly Conservation Charity, butterfly numbers are in decline and loss of habitat is a big part of the reason for that.  Butterflies need nectar to survive and so many of our garden flowers, beautiful as they are, are the wrong shape for butterflies to feed from...those big wings just don't fit into tightly arranged petals or trumpet shaped flowers; but it's not just flowers they need, it's food for their caterpillars.

Now, as someone who likes to try to grow a few veggies, I'm not always happy to share my greens with caterpillars but I guess there needs to be a compromise somewhere, after all, without caterpillars, some of our songbirds would struggle to find food...they're an important part of the food chain.  As a farmer's wife, I also know that you're unlikely to find a caterpillar on any of the agricultural crops around here.  It's understandable, crops are our living and just as I don't want to lose my cabbage crop to caterpillars, we simply can't afford to sacrifice the large scale crops for wildlife....(deer, the pigeons, rabbits have already taken a proportion of our wheat and pea crops)

Meadowmat planted along the edge of a garden creates wildlife habitat
without affecting the way the rest of the space is used
Farmers are doing their bit to help wildlife by leaving wide field margins, planting hedges where they can and generally doing less trimming and strimming, but how can gardeners help?  Well, in the same way as farmers - leave some areas wild and uncultivated and plant more native species.   Meadowmat performs both of these functions. But also choose culivated plants wisely...look at the flower shape, can butterflies and bees reach the pollen and nectar? Will these plants be flowering when pollinating insects are out and about?  make sure your garden almost always has something blooming (you'll enjoy the garden more anyway) and try not to be sqeamish about caterpillars. 

This weekend I shall be adding some pollinator friendly flowering plants to my borders...just in case the weather finally improves enough for the butterflies and bees to come out to tea.
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