Wildflower urban meadows are bringing more butterflies to Doncaster

Columnist Kirsty- Jo Muddiman explores the decline of butterflies in Doncaster’s ecology and shares advice on how to bring more critters into gardens.

By Laura Andrew
Monday, 05 August, 2019, 10:08
Photo of a butterfly by @The_skys_the_limit5

Whilst walking the dogs this month I had noticed a couple of butterflies I didn’t recognise so this weekend, when I spotted a butterfly identification guide in a charity shop in Doncaster, I snapped it up for just 30p.Published by Hamlyn in 1968 the book has some lovely colour plates of butterflies and as I flicked through looking for what later transpired to be a Cinnabar day moth, I noticed that a previous owner had marked off dates next to butterflies.Sometimes old books tell more than one story!

This previous owner had spotted a Red Admiral on August 1, 1976, and a Peacock Butterfly on August 8 of the same year.The Red Admiral is a migrant to the British Isles and is unable to survive the winter months here.Travelling from central Europe, any Red Admirals you spot are just tourists to our shores.

Butterflies are some of the most popular of insects in anthropology.Early Christianity used the butterfly as a symbol of the soul, native American tribes celebrated the butterfly as a symbol of joy, colour and change and I think spotting a beautifully coloured butterfly fluttering by on a summer’s day brings a moment of joy to a lot of us.The symmetry and beauty make it easy to understand why so many cultures celebrate this insect as being something more spiritual than other six-legged creatures.

Photo of a butterfly by @Joephotography

Sadly, butterfly populations are generally on the decline, and although not every species is declining, it’s a harsh reality that some species of butterfly have become extinct on British shores since the time my book’s previous owner penciled in their sightings in 1976, just two years before I was born.

The Chequered Skipper has an entry in my book which states, “quite rare in England”.By 1976, the small, furry, orange and brown butterfly had become extinct in England due to changes in woodland management.There’s still hope though.The Chequered Skipper has been successfully reintroduced and bred in Northamptonshire, though the true success of this three-year project will only be proved if the butterflies are spotted elsewhere in England, so keep your eyes peeled!

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With butterflies on the decline, it is truly heart-warming to see that Doncaster Council have continued sowing wild-flowers, creating small urban meadows.The flowers, sown in dense groups in various locations around the borough, offer a great variety of colour, height and flowering times which are not only beautiful to look at but offer the diverse food-source pollinators such as

butterflies and bees need.I’ve seen so much insect activity on the patch closest to home and new flowers are emerging all the time.

Photo of butterfly by @The_skys_the_limit5.

If you’re a gardener, particularly of your own food produce, the butterfly can be a nuisance in its juvenile form.Caterpillars can decimate crops overnight and I remember my grandad cursing the Cabbage White for eating his greens!Understandably, gardeners want to protect their crops but pesticides can kill more than their intended victim and hang around on your food for longer than you’d perhaps like.If possible, physical barriers rather than chemicals should be used to protect garden crops because although caterpillars are a nuisance, the butterflies they emerge as are critical to pollination and help improve yields of soft fruits and other produce. It’s a balance, and not always an easy one.

If you could consider putting a small area in your garden aside for your very own urban meadow, it would not only help our pollinators but also offer you the opportunity for more little moments of joy as a Red Admiral, Peacock or even a Chequered Skipper stops by for a re-fuel.

I’m thinking of turning over more than just a small area- my motivation is more than just environmental- there’ll be less mowing to do!