Reports from organizations Butterfly Conservation and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology have highlighted the continuing decline of our native butterflies by measuring the changes in their distribution and population levels. Their findings show that populations are diminishing rapidly with over three quarters of our 59 resident species in decline and 5 others already extinct.

These dramatic figures are blamed on the destruction and deterioration of ‘brown field’ and upland bog habitats. The report also highlights that our characteristic woodland butterflies are also disappearing due to traditional woodland management - notably coppicing – continuing to die out.

It’s an alarming story, but by making a few changes to how we garden it’s possible to make a difference. Unfortunately, the biggest problem that any nectar loving insect has is that most heinous of plants – the modern hybrid!

With the arrival of the Edwardian pleasure during the 1880’s non-edible gardens plants suddenly became fashionable as well as accessible. Then, in the wake of heroic Victorian plant hunters, the English garden was no longer viewed as a valuable source of food, herbs and medicines, but instead had become a place of peace and beauty. After millions of years of evolution flowers were not just a specialized body designed to attract pollinators, to Victorian eyes they had ascended to a thing of beauty. Unfortunately, to the up and coming career gardener they were also became something to be manipulated.

Through years of selected breeding, plants which were once rich with scent and nectar had now become flamboyant and sterile ornaments. If proof were needed, compare the common dog rose along side its multi-petal, modern day children. Even if there was any nectar to be gained form these over pampered Christmas decorations, there is no way that most insects could gain entry through its barricade of overproduced petals. Designed solely for the gardener’s vanity, these plants have no place in the wider environment. In fact if they were left to their own devices, many modern hybrids would disappear within a generation or two.

Luckily for us, and more so nature at large, all is not lost. Even the smallest garden can become a haven for butterflies just so long as you keep to a few simple rules.


Butterflies require a good supply of nectar throughout the year, they need it as a source of energy. You should select a variety of nectar-producing plants with the aim of providing flowers in bloom throughout the season. This will entice a continual succession of new visitors to your garden. It is especially important to have flowers in mid to late summer, when most of our native butterflies are active. If you have fruit trees in your garden then you may wish to keep an area for some over-ripe fruit. Plenty of species will be happy to feed directly off the fermenting fruit juices, although there may be some side effects.


The majority of caterpillars feed on leaves; although some will develop on the reproductive parts of flowers or seeds. If there are not enough food sources at each of the butterfly’s developmental stage then they will perish.
Systemic insecticides like Provado (Imidacloprid) can stay within the affected plants for up to 4 months. The active chemical is transported throughout the plant using its vascular system even reaching the pollen and nectar supply. One feed from an infected plant is generally enough to kill whatever insect fed from it.

This is important to butterflies for a number of reasons. Butterflies prefer to feed and lay their eggs in warm sheltered areas where they are not at risk of being buffeted by strong gusts of winds. Preferring the warmth of the sun, neither do they like to stay in areas where they are at risk of being overly cooled by the wind.


Male butterflies often make their way to “puddling” areas. These can include mud puddles, moist soil along stream banks, and animal faeces such a freshly laid cow pat. There they can ingest the salts important in sperm production. Create you own 'puddling' area for male butterflies by designing water puddles and wet, sandy areas into the habitat. You may wish to add a slight pinch of sea salt for extra mineral content.


Throughout the growing season and in the autumn, resist the temptation to remove dead flower heads and foliage from your plants. By doing so you may be accidentally be removing eggs or pupating butterflies. Due to global warming some butteries such as the red admiral can overwinter as adults. For these hardier varieties you may wish to provide log or brushwood piles for winter protection.

To conclude, if we do nothing more than give the few butterflies that are left in the urban environment a fighting chance of survival then there is no reason why we shouldn't be around to see a stop in the decline of this most wonderful of species. However if we continue to put the needs of our vanity before the needs of our wild life then what else can we expect other than destruction of our own environment. The one thing we really do need to survive as a people.

For related articles click onto the following links:
Butterfly Garden

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