A but­ter­fly bo­nanza

With news that UK but­ter­flies are on the de­cline, we visit one in­no­va­tive project that’s cre­ated a thriv­ing pop­u­la­tion of th­ese colour­ful crea­tures

YOURS (UK) - - Contents - By Katharine Woot­ton

From red ad­mi­rals to holly blues, com­mon brim­stones to speck­led woods, there’s noth­ing quite like see­ing but­ter­flies to cheer up our day. They’re the splash of pretty colour that bright­ens our land­scape and a vi­tal cog in na­ture’s ecosys­tem turn­ing day in, day out. Yet th­ese re­mark­able crea­tures are hav­ing a tough time at the mo­ment, with three­quar­ters of Bri­tish but­ter­fly species in de­cline and four species wiped out in the last 150 years. That’s the re­sult of their habi­tats be­ing de­stroyed through ur­ban de­vel­op­ment and by over-tidy gar­dens. In ad­di­tion, un­pre­dictable weather re­sult­ing from cli­mate change is now threat­en­ing their very sur­vival. Now more than ever they are in need of a lit­tle lov­ing care and sup­port.

One project do­ing its bit to help the fu­ture of but­ter­flies is Win­ter­bourne Downs, a chalk grass­land site in Wilt­shire man­aged by the RSPB. Since De­cem­ber 2005, a team have been con­vert­ing this arable farm­land into a but­ter­fly par­adise, mak­ing the most of the

chalk soil al­ready found in the area and bring­ing in more of it to boost the but­ter­fly pop­u­la­tion.

“In nu­tri­ent-rich soil, you find that only the strong­est, most com­pet­i­tive flow­ers pros­per. With well-drained, poorer soil like chalk, how­ever, there’s a chance for

all dif­fer­ent kinds of flow­ers to grow, in­clud­ing lots of wild­flow­ers that but­ter­flies need and love, which wouldn’t sur­vive else­where in stronger soil,” says Pa­trick Cash­man, site man­ager at Win­ter­bourne Downs. Over the past few years, staff and vol­un­teers here have been dig­ging up chalk to cre­ate two S-shaped but­ter­fly banks in which they then sow the seeds and wild flower plugs of plant species they know send but­ter­flies crazy, in­clud­ing kid­ney vetch, horse­shoe vetch, hairy vi­o­let and rock­rose.

And it’s proved a huge hit! Win­ter­bourne Downs has since at­tracted 25 species of but­ter­fly (out of 59 in the whole of the coun­try) in­clud­ing some very rare but­ter­flies, such as the Ado­nis blue, the small blue and marsh frit­il­lary. What’s even bet­ter is that vol­un­teer mon­i­tors have also dis­cov­ered many of the but­ter­flies are also lay­ing their eggs and set­ting up a new colony here – a sure sign that they’ve made them­selves right at home! “We think most of the but­ter­flies here have trav­elled from nearby Por­ton Down, which is an­other haven for but­ter­flies, on a north-east­erly wind. They’re at­tracted to the habi­tat as we’ve planted the flow­ers that they and their cater­pil­lars love to feed on so their cater­pil­lars can ab­sorb strong flavours into their body. Hence preda­tors are less likely to eat them. “While a few years ago we had one or two small blue but­ter­flies on the site what’s great is that they’re now ev­ery­where. There can be as many as 50 on our but­ter­fly bank on a sunny day, which means they must have bred and bred.” Bril­liantly, Win­ter­bourne has also be­come a sanc­tu­ary for other wildlife, in­clud­ing bees, spi­ders and bee­tles as well as be­ing the home of the rare farm­land bird, the stone curlew.

And while Win­ter­bourne is an ex­am­ple of a large-scale project help­ing but­ter­flies, Pa­trick is keen to point that you don’t need 200 hectares of chalk grass­land to do your bit for th­ese lovely crea­tures. “You can make a dif­fer­ence just in your gar­den by plant­ing some nec­tar-rich flow­ers like we did – try laven­der, phlox and ver­bena bonar­ien­sis. It’s also good to keep an area of un­cut lawn which all kind of wildlife and flow­ers will love.”

RSPB’s Vanessa Amaral-Rogers and site man­ager Pa­trick Cash­man

Win­ter­bourne vol­un­teers sow wild­flower seeds on the side of a chalk bank to at­tract but­ter­flies

An Ado­nis blue alights on a plant. Right, vol­un­tary war­den Roy Wil­liams

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