Nearly 1 in 10 UK butterflies extinct: How the public can support pollinators at home, during No Mow May
Five species of butterfly have become extinct in the last 150 years and a 2021 report from Butterfly Conservation Europe found that, in the United Kingdom, nearly one in ten of resident species have become extinct, and since 1976, overall numbers declined by around 50 per cent.
UK butterfly numbers are fluctuating according to the annual data. Despite good growth reported in recent years, almost half of UK butterfly species still had below average population levels last year. According to the charity Butterfly Conservation, destruction of habitats resulting from land-use change is the key cause of this decline.
With this month being No Mow May, a time to encourage the UK to let lawns grow and encourage flower diversity, now’s the perfect time to re-wild your garden with native wildflowers to support butterflies and bees.
Permaculture designer and environmental writer at Horticulture.co.uk Elizabeth Waddington says: “Changing climate and weather patterns, habitat loss and environmental pollutants threaten these beautiful creatures. Our gardens are a place where we can stem the tide, and help tackle the biodiversity crisis.”
Encouragingly, there’s been a surge in consumers buying wildflowers throughout the UK.
Wildflowers offer alternative habitats and food for caterpillars, butterflies and other pollinators. Wildlife supplies website Ark Wildlife reports a staggering increase in demand for wildflower products from 2020 to 2021, meaning support for butterflies and bees is starting to gain momentum.
Wildlife expert and director at Ark Wildlife Sean McMenemy has spoken to gardening experts and provided his own expertise on how to make a garden butterfly-friendly with wildflowers.
How to support wildlife this No Mow May, and make your garden into a butterfly-friendly wildflower meadow
The more wildflowers that are flourishing, the better our butterfly populations will fare. By taking simple steps to transform your own garden, you can support the rise of pollinator species numbers while boosting your own wellbeing by engaging with nature:
- Collect your native wildflower seed mixes. While not definitively better, native wildflowers are generally preferred by beneficial insects such as butterflies and bumblebees because they have evolved to use these plants as food for caterpillars and also as nectar and pollen for the adults.
- Choose a patch in your garden, as small or large as you have space for. Preferably, a spot that gets a lot of sun.
- Planting native wildflowers couldn’t be easier. They’re tough and easy to grow – just scatter seeds on any bare earth and leave them to it.
- Of course, you can improve germination rates by taking time to prepare seed beds in borders, or by scattering specially prepared ‘seedballs’ rather than bare seeds.
- Watch your meadow grow and flower in the spring and summer, and enjoy helping the butterflies prosper.
What else can be done to support butterflies in the garden?
Elizabeth Waddington says: “Our gardens are extremely important ecosystems – oases of green in our towns and cities. As gardeners, we should do all we can to use our gardens wisely. We should do what we can to attract and protect all the other creatures with whom we share our space. Butterflies and other invertebrates are particularly important.
“Native butterflies have formed symbiotic relationships with certain native plants and so when we plant native species, or allow wild plants to flourish in wilder corners of our gardens, we help specific butterfly and moth species in very specific ways.”
As well as planting native wildflower species, there is the option to integrate exotic plants into your garden meadow too.
Sean McMenemy says, “If you do choose exotic plant species, look for big open flowers with strong scent, as these tend to have more nectar and the pollen is more accessible in open flowers.
“Butterflies also need water, so put out a shallow-sided dish of water in the garden and make sure it doesn’t have slippery edges. A terracotta plant saucer is ideal.
“Another tip is to watch out for cold spells, as many flowers will close to protect themselves, but this prevents butterflies from feeding. During such times make a mix of sugar water and soak it in a sponge or cloth and put it out in a shady spot. Butterflies and bumblebees will sniff it out for a quick ‘pit stop’ when needed.”
Charities and causes that promote UK butterfly conservation
Support No Mow May efforts with https://www.plantlife.org.uk/uk