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Big Butterfly Count
Butterflies have a starring role in the July 2011 issue of Gardeners’ World magazine. There’s a cut-out-and-keep ID guide, a feature on plants for butterflies and another on gardening for all three stages of their lifecycle. This wealth of content was prompted by Butterfly Conservation’s Big Butterfly Count.
From 16-31 July, Butterfly Conservation hopes thousands will spend just 15 minutes counting butterflies in their garden, local park, field, forest or school. This will help the charity monitor butterfly populations and identify any changes, which could indicate wider environmental problems.
I’ve always gardened with butterflies in mind, but so few come into my shady London plot that I’ve never given them much attention. After working on content for July’s issue of the magazine I wanted to see more of Britain’s 59 species, so researched which ones I might see before a recent trip to Dorset. As I unpacked the tent I found meadow browns and a small copper. Then, walking along the cliffs around Lulworth Cove, I saw marbled whites, common blues, fritillaries (I don’t know which) and the Lulworth skipper.
Butterflies have been enjoyed by enthusiasts for hundreds of years but this world was very new to me. It made me realise that, if I hadn’t researched before the trip and taken my ID guide, I might have missed these beautiful butterflies. What else might we see if we looked?
At the launch of the Count yesterday I had the privilege of meeting several experts from Butterfly Conservation, including its President, Sir David Attenborough. He told me about his garden, bashfully saying he doesn’t do enough for butterflies, then went on to describe it: “a wild sort of garden, unkempt, not looked after” (sounds like the perfect butterfly habitat to me). Just 20 years ago he’d find red admirals, peacocks, small tortoiseshells, gatekeepers and common blues in his garden. Now, he never sees those species – just the odd cabbage white, if he’s lucky.
What’s happening to our butterflies is tragic, but inevitable. In London alone we are losing the equivalent of 2.5 Hyde Parks of green space each year, as landlords and homeowners pave over their gardens to build sheds, park their cars and reduce ‘maintenance’. Butterflies are precious in their own right, but they’re also an indicator species, meaning that whatever is happening to them is probably happening – or will happen – to other species, including us.
“The natural world is changing extraordinarily fast”, Sir David told me. “We need to be aware of changes to see what we can do about them. And we might not be able to do anything about them, but I bet you a dollar we can”.
The Big Butterfly Count runs from 16-31 July. To find out how to take part, visit bigbutterflycount.org.
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