Our butterflies and moths need your help.
Over the last century, four species of butterfly and more than 60 moth species have become extinct. Three-quarters of British butterflies are now in decline and two thirds of common and widespread moths saw numbers fall in the last 40 years.
Butterflies and moths form an intrinsic part of our natural world. Yet they are threatened by habitat degradation and loss, climate change and pollution. Helping butterflies and moths will not only ensure they are around to be enjoyed by future generations, but it will also improve and enrich our whole environment for people and wildlife.
Luckily, there’s plenty we can do to help them in our gardens. And this will benefit you too – not only will your garden, allotment or balcony attract more butterflies and moths, but you can also give yourself a pat on the back for helping to conserve and, even increase, numbers of these declining species.
You can make a huge difference simply by growing a few choice plants, providing butterflies and moths with a garden refuge where they can stock up on nectar. But it’s not just nectar that butterflies and moths need. They lay eggs on plants, which hatch into caterpillars that eat the plant before pupating and then emerging as an adult. Many common garden butterflies, such as the Red Admiral, Comma and Small Tortoiseshell, lay eggs on stinging nettles, but other butterflies breed on more garden-worthy plants.
Gardening with butterflies and moths in mind is one of the most rewarding things you can do in your own backyard, and once you’ve done the initial job of planting the plants, you get to sit back and enjoy the show. You don’t need to be an expert gardener to provide a refuge for butterflies and moths. In fact, you don’t need green fingers at all. Nor do you need a large garden – a courtyard, small balcony or even the area outside your front door will do.
Simple dos and don'ts of gardening for butterflies and moths
- Grow lots of nectar-rich flowers between March and November.
- Choose different plants to attract a wider variety of species. Place the same types of plant together in blocks.
- Prolong flowering by deadheading flowers and watering well. Well-watered plants produce more nectar.
- Grow caterpillar foodplants for butterflies and moths.
- Let an area of grass grow long.
- Allow a patch of ‘weeds’, such as Dandelion and Bird’s-foot-trefoil to flourish.
- Leave bare patches of wall, fence or earth, or place large stones in sunny borders, so butterflies can bask.
- Create a shelter-belt of trees, plant a mixed, native hedge, which will protect butterflies and moths from the wind.
- Grow climbing plants up walls and fences, where butterflies and moths can shelter from the rain and frost.
- Make a log pile, where butterflies and moths can hibernate. Some moths breed in dead wood too.
- Use pesticides, especially those containing neonicotinoids, as these can remain in the plant for several months and potentially harm butterflies and moths which drink nectar from the flowers.
- Buy peat-based compost. Peat bogs are home to many species, including the Large Heath butterfly. Check the label before you buy and choose peat-free alternatives.
- Be too tidy – leave borders intact over winter, allow leaves to accumulate under hedges and create a ‘wild’ area that you don’t touch very often. These areas will provide shelter for insects to hibernate and rest.