Spreading their wings! Boom in butterfly species in UK gardens

Top 10 Facts About Butterflies

Butterflies are fluttering back following a long decline thanks to green-fingered enthusiasts offering them a safe haven.

Half of the 22 species surveyed saw numbers rise faster in our gardens than in other habitats between 2007 and 2020.

The British Trust for Ornithology study – which dubbed the winged insects “honorary birds” – is the first to look at butterfly trends outside the wider countryside.

Though not as efficient as bees, butterflies are vital pollinators. Last year a Butterfly Conservation report showed that since the 1970s, 80 percent of species had declined.

The latest BTO Garden BirdWatch survey involved almost 8,000 volunteers recording wildlife in their gardens on a weekly basis.

Dr Kate Plummer, BTO senior research ecologist and lead author on the paper, said: “It is extremely encouraging to see that gardens are contributing to the population growth of some of the UK’s widespread butterfly species.

“We are increasingly finding that gardens are crucial for biodiversity conservation, and these new findings certainly support that.”

Dr Michelle Reeve, Garden BirdWatch manager, added: “The fates of bird populations are inextricably linked to that of other species, including butterflies, so learning how they are faring is crucial.”

Marbled white and large skipper numbers grew by more than 200 percent, while holly blue, small skipper, ringlet, brimstone and orange-tip doubled.

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In recent years, marbled white, large skipper and small skipper butterflies have widened their range from grassland to gardens in particular, possibly to find refuge as well as feeding opportunities.

As private patches are hard to access, BTO said its citizen-scientist approach reveals a clearer picture of our impact on the insects.

Dr Emily Dennis of Butterfly Conservation said the study suggests gardens may help support populations and “encourages the positive contribution that adopting wildlife-friendly gardening practices can have”.

Butterflies prefer to feed in sunny, sheltered parts of the garden, with scented blooms presented in large and visible displays.

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