Big Butterfly Count

Big Butterfly Count

Chris Packham, vice president of Butterfly Conservation, is urging us to do our bit for that most exquisite of garden insects, the butterfly. Give them flowers, give them nectar, give them colour..

Count the butterflies in your garden

Butterflies used to be a mainstay of summer gardens, but as with many creatures great and small, their numbers have been dwindling over recent decades;indeed four species have become extinct and three quarters of British butterflies are in decline. But don't despair, we can help them flutter back into good health, says Chris Packham

Planting Colour
‘Butterflies will take nectar from a variety of colourful plant species for fuel,' explains Chris. ‘Examples of plants that can easily be planted in the garden to help include Red Valerian, which is great for nectar, fragrant Wild Majoram, and Buddleia, which is a popular choice among the perennial plants i.e. those that will stay live and leafy for a few years.
‘If your garden is filled with lots of non-native plants, you can still create a friendly pit stop for the butterflies. At the adult stage, they are primarily interested in the nectar that’s on offer and as non-native plants from all over the world produce nectar, the insects can drink this as long as it’s accessible.'
Know your nettles
‘When it comes to feeding their caterpillars, butterflies need a species of plant which may not be top of your planting list! To attract some of the brightest, biggest and boldest butterflies such as Tortoise Shells, Peacocks and Red Admirals, you’ll need to invest in a nettle patch. Even a small area of just few square metres in the garden would be beneficial for their conservation.’
Rough it Up
‘One widespread species of butterfly is the Meadow Brown, commonly found alongside another brown-coloured species, the Gatekeeper. Whilst common, many colonies of the Meadow Brown have been lost due to an increase in agriculture. To help cultivate this species, alongside the Gatekeeper, rough grassland is essential.
‘Consider leaving a small corner of your lawn uncut and plant the Lady Smock, which is a food plant of the lovely Orange Tip butterfly. Lots of other species that live in our gardens actually feed on grasses, but won’t if they are mown, so it’s vital to let them grow so the leaves are long and lush if you’d like to attract more breeds.’
Beautiful beguiling butterflies
Naturalist Chris Packham
The peacock butterfly, native to the UK
Seeking shelter
‘Butterflies need shelter as well as food, and letting just a few square metres of your garden go rough can also help create a nesting area for our insect friends. You’ll notice when you look into your garden when it’s raining that you won’t see any butterflies. This is because many of them will snuggle up deep down in the vegetation and if there isn’t any available, they’ll be left out in the rain and won’t prosper.’
Family fun
‘As well as creating the perfect haven for butterlies and insects alike, it’s important your garden suits you and your family’s needs too. For people with young children who like to run across the lawn, seperate your rough patch with longer grass, nettles and brambles to create an area just for butterfly and caterpillar spotting.
‘The journey of a caterpillar to a butterfly is particularly fascinating, especially for children.  By creating the ultimate butterfly friendly garden, you can help to seed an interest in natural history in your children, as well as having fun along the way.’
Making the most of minimal space
‘If you have limited outdoor space to work with, don’t worry - you can still attract butterflies and other insects. All that’s needed is a few pots, with plants such as geranium, lavender and Valerian in a window-box or on a balcony. If insects in the city are hungry, they will find these flowers day or night, with their remarkable sense of smell. By planting nectar producing plants in these pots on your balcony, this can make a valuable contribution to the ecology of your area with a lovely reward of spotting the various butterflies and other insects that visit.’

Chris Packham is leading the charge for The Big Butterfly Count, the world’s largest butterfly survey, sponsored by B&Q. Head to for your count sheet and instructions on how to take part.