Orange tip on dandelion - Christine Gregory.jpg

It seems almost a cliche to write about the importance of hopefulness in springtime. It's a topic we come to again and again, so what else can we add to it, and why? Sitting down to have a look at social media this morning, I saw hundreds of posts about death and destruction - both of humans and wildlife - and realised that what I was desperately looking for where stories where good things prevailed. I didn't find much. Images of felled ancient trees, burning peat boggs and plastic 'lawns' filled my feed. Yes, we need to know about these things, but too much dread on top of dread does nobody any good.

What gives me greatest optimism is the resilience of nature. Our planet still teems with life, and if it's given half a chance nature rushes back in. I've seen this on the tiny balcony of my flat: my home-made solitary bee nests were full of Red-mason bees last year, and I've had tiny caterpillars of Small White butterflies and Angle Shades moths feeding on my plants.

And I'm not alone. I have a sense that more people than ever are doing things to help wildlife in whatever places they can. Starbank Park in Edinburgh is tiny, about one hectare in area, and is just one of the little oases dotted throughout the city. The park was created in the 1900s, and for most of its history will have been planted with ornamental bedding plants that were no use to insects. I dread to think what chemicals have been used to control insects through the decades too.

But in February I was contacted by Janet from Friends of Starbank Park. The group are laying out new flower beds and wanted our advice on planting to attract more butterflies. I sent her some lists and will be speaking to the group this spring about how they can go to the next level and provide more food for caterpillars. Starbank Park will not be completely rewilded, but I know that the work the group are doing will help boost local populations of insects.

This has been happening all over the country - from the village of Killin in rural Stirlingshire where residents are using plants for insects in their public displays, to the great parks of London where our Big City Butterflies project has been helping create larger wildflower meadows.

Now, more than ever, people from all backgrounds are seeking to bring about changes that allow wildlife to return. In the face of environmental destruction we can throw up our hands and feel doomed, or we can dig in and resolve to work harder. A personal example of this is when I found out that a cherry tree I had planted a decade ago had been cut down by a local authority. My immediate feeling was anger and disgust, and the only way I could shake those uncomfortable feelings was to commit to planting more cherry trees in other places. Within the next month I had planted three, and they're still standing.

So, this March, I challenge you to decide what you would like to do to help butterflies, moths and other insects this year. if you have a garden, now is the perfect time for planting bare-root trees, and you can still sow some meadows. Or you might take the challenge to your neighbourhood, working with others in parks and community greenspaces to influence how they do things. 

Here's my list of small changes:

  • Plant a tree for butterflies and moths - willow, crab apple, hazel and birch offer food for a huge range of moth caterpillars.
  • Leave an area unmown - wildflowers might come through, but if not you can plant some. Long grass is also eaten by various moth caterpillars and will be home to bugs, spiders and much else.
  • Swap traditional bedding plants - change tender geranium (Pelargonium), Begonia, Petunia and Pansies for annuals like Bidens, Cosmos and Sunflower, or perennials like Sea Holly, Hardy Geranium, Lavender and Sedum.
  • Love your weeds - Dandelions are vital for springtime butterflies and new queen bees, giving them a big hit of nectar in the colder months.
  • Spread the word - three quarters of butterfly species have declined in the past four decades and moth numbers have declined by over a third in 50 years. This will have a big impact on pollination, and the populations of birds and bats which eat them. Let you friends, family and neighbours know that there is a biodiversity crisis, and that they can help!