Munching Caterpillars came to my town

Elephant Hawk

Student Lucy Cunningham decided to change her life to help wildlife. She is studying Wildlife Conservation at the University of the West of England and earlier this year started volunteering for Butterfly Conservation’s Munching Caterpillars Goes to Town project, working in a number of Bristol primary schools with Project Officer Matt Brierley.

The project aims to bring butterflies, moths and their caterpillars into the classrooms of primary schools in some of the most urban areas of Bristol, giving children the chance to see these fascinating insects up close, and working with them to plant nectar and food plants in their school grounds.

The project follows on from the highly successful trial scheme carried out across Dorset and Somerset between 2012 and 2015. Lucy explains:

“Around 18 months ago I made a decision to quit my job to start a career in wildlife conservation, a subject I’ve always been very passionate about.

Volunteering with various conservation charities had inspired me to get more involved, so I started a foundation degree in Integrated Wildlife Conservation at the University of the West of England.

As part of the work and research skills module, I need to complete 100 hours of volunteering with a conservation organisation. I chose the Munching Caterpillars Comes to Town project for my placement as I enjoy engagement work, especially with children.

As a child I was mesmerised whe a butterfly came into the garden, watching it flutter around, hoping it would land for long enough for me to identify it. The ragwort in the lane near my house was always a good place to look for the yellow and black striped Cinnabar moth caterpillar. Many children are becoming disconnected with nature, especially in urban areas like Bristol, so I really enjoy showing them that nature is all around us.

Project Officer Matt Brierly, has been so supportive, helping me make the most of this opportunity. I have been teaching classes, giving me confidence in talking to groups and have gained experience working with children. An additional bonus has been running the moth trap in my garden for the ‘show and tell’ sessions. It has been amazing to find so many species of moths visit my wildlife garden, Elephant Hawk-moths being the highlight so far. 

It is really rewarding teaching children how to tell the differences between a butterfly and a moth and showing them the diversity of the Lepidoptera order. We have been planting native wildflowers in the school grounds and explaining to the children why this is so important for pollinators. Many of the kids have never planted anything before and they really enjoy the activity. The children have been so enthusiastic about the sessions, it is amazing to be part of such a wonderful project. I hope the experience I have gained on my placement will enable me to get a similar role in the future."

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