IT’S a worrying reality that many of our native butterflies are in decline, as highlighted in a recent study of European species.
The research, published in the scientific journal PNAS, noted that overall numbers have declined by 50 per cent since 1976. Indeed, seven out of ten British species of butterfly are declining, many of those very rapidly – including previously-common grass feeders such as small skipper, common blue, small blue, small copper and small heath.
Conservationists believe that rewilding your garden can go some way to stemming the decline, even in a small space. Dr Dan Hoare, of the Butterfly Conservation charity and co-author of the research paper, says: “Going wild in your garden is absolutely the right approach.”
He recommends some key steps to rewilding your plot.
* Let grass go wild
“Introduce small flower species to your lawn by letting your grass grow longer and wilder,” he suggests. “Put away the mower and let your lawn grow between April and July.”
Leaving the grass long provides space for the caterpillars of grass feeders like the speckled wood butterfly, meadow brown and gatekeeper. He says sprinkling wildflower seeds into your wilder lawn could help, but might not even be needed.
* Go native
“Get as many native plants which grow wild into your garden as you can,” says Dr Hoare. “We have lists on our website (butterfly-conservation.org) you can choose from, but typical plants include bird’s-foot-trefoil, yarrow, clovers, trees and shrubs which are good nectar sources such as willow and ivy, and blackthorn in your hedge.”
* Don’t use pesticides
“Pretty obviously, pesticides are designed to kill insects,” he warns. “We are putting toxic chemicals all over our gardens, where we’re sitting having a picnic or playing with our kids.
“If you have a healthy ecosystem of insects visiting your garden it should keep the balance of nature going – wasps and ladybirds will eat the aphids.”
* Turn your garden lights off
“Light pollution is a huge problem for a whole range of wildlife including moths, bats and birds. There has been a huge proliferation in LED lights and solar lights which charge up in the day and stay on all night, when you’re not actually using the garden,” he says.
“By all means, use lights when you are sitting outside having an evening meal, but turn them off when you come inside.”
* Share your efforts with neighbours
“Explain to your neighbours that you’re not neglecting your lawn, you’re rewilding it. I put a little sign on my front gate to explain what we’re doing,” he says.
* Look beyond your garden gate
“Talk to your council about the way they are mowing their road verges,” says Dr Hoare.