The Small Tortoiseshell- under threat

The Small Tortoiseshell- under threat

The latest ‘Wider Countryside Butterfly Survey’ reveals that some butterfly species- notably the Meadow Brown- seem to have benefitted from last year’s wet summer, whereas others- such as the Common Blue and Small Tortoiseshell– were around 50% down on the previous year.

The Small Tortoiseshell was once prolific in Britain’s gardens, but it seems to have been one of the big losers in 2012. Last year’s weather  is only partly to blame, as wider agricultural policies and practices are a key driver behind a longer term decline in butterfly species and numbers and parasitic flies may also be part of the story. Around three quarters of the 59 native British species are now in decline.

So what can gardeners do to arrest this trend?

1. Think about providing year- round sources of food for emerging and mature butterflies. Examples of plants which feed butterfly caterpillars are: Dill, Antirrhinum, Columbine, Berberis, Marigold, Ceanothus, Cercis, Cornus, Foxglove, Wallflower, Ivy, Hop, Holly, Jasmine, Honesty, Ragged Robin, Crab Apple, Oregano, Cowslip, Rudbeckia, Thyme, Nasturtium, Verbascum and Pansy.

Species which are food sources for mature butterflies are: Achillea, Anthemis tinctoria, Bergamot, Buddleja, Columbine, Coreopsis lanceolata, Red Valerian, Ceanothus, Marigold, Echinacea, Globe Thistle, Knautia, Lavender, Tobacco plant and Hop.

2. Try to plant butterfly-attracting plants in groups– butterflies prefer to visit stands of brightly coloured flowers.

3. If you have room, choose a quiet but sunny area of lawn where the grass can be left to grow long – some butterflies such as the Meadow Brown prefer to lay eggs in long grass.

4. Allow a small patch of nettles (Urtica dioica) to grow unfettered– these will provide food for some of the more common butterflies such as Red Admiral, Painted Lady and Milbert’s Tortoiseshell.

5. If you have fruit trees, don’t be too tidy about windfalls– leave some rotting fruit as a source of food for some butterflies.

6. Try to provide a shallow, muddy puddle in a sunny spot– many butterflies love to drink from these and they also provide essential minerals and salts.

7. Avoid using chemical sprays to deal with insect pests and weeds– many will harm beneficial insects and butterflies as well as the pests.

Groups of butterfly- friendly plants such as Bergamot are better than single specimens

Groups of butterfly- friendly plants such as Bergamot are better than single specimens

Sources and further information:

Guardian online

Butterfly Conservation

UK butterflies

‘Wildlife Friendly Plants’- Rosemary Cresser

Quizzicals- two more cryptic clues to plant, fruit or veg names:

  • Our monarch continues to work hard
  • Nasty spot causing urination problems

Old School Gardener

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