It’s clearly coming towards the end of a washout summer and one of the insects that have really bared the brunt of the adverse weather is the butterfly. The cold and wet weather has meant that numbers are well down in many parts of the UK. However if you end up having a bit of an ‘Indian Summer’ then gardeners could offer last-minute help as the insects prepare for the winter.
Over the last couple of weeks there has been some warm and sunny days that has led to a big boost in butterfly numbers out on the wing but the plants on which the butterflies feed and rely on are now fast heading out of season.
The local flower meadow in Abergavenny was last week cut for silage so that food source has gone and many of the wild flowers growing in the hedgerows and along the river Usk have come to the end of their flowering season.
There is still some food sources left for those butterflies that are going to over-winter. The insects could take advantage of fallen fruits and berries to get the stores needed to see them through the cold winter months. There’s also some garden plants still flowering.
But it’s always worth remembering that there are special food mixes available for butterflies and moths that gardeners can use to feed butterflies in much the same way that you can feed garden birds. Using a straightforward sugar syrup is possible but these do not provide the essential nutrients that butterflies need to stay in top shape.
Ideally if you have space in your garden it’s well worth planting late flowering wild flower seeds to keep a good supply of natural food for butterflies but it’s obviously too late to do that now. Or perhaps, like me, you don’t have a garden. You may just have a small balcony where you don’t have space for wildflowers. In my case I just have a small area of flat roof I can get access to. Despite being small I’ve been able to fit in a bird feeding station and an upturned dustbin lid provides a welcome water-bath for the birds. Using specialist butterfly food – which will also be fed on by bees – and a feeder is the best way to help the insects this year.
I’ve just ordered in a couple of packets of the butterfly food mix to keep on standby in case there’s an unexpected warm spell that brings the butterflies back out. I can help top up their feeding with my own contribution.
Unfortunately I’ve got nowhere to put up a butterfly house and feeder so I’ll be using some homemade sponge type feeders that I can soak in the nectar mix and hang up from either the bird feeder or elsewhere.
Helping butterflies is essential after this years poor weather. Earlier this week Butterfly Conservation released the results of their annual Big Butterfly Count and it does not look too promising. While there were some notable exceptions the majority of butterfly and moth species counted were is decline – 15 of the 21 species.
Some of those declines were quite substantial with Red Admirals down by 72%, the Speckled Wood down by 65% and Common Blue down by 50%. THe Big Butterfly Count was again sponsored by Marks and Spencer.
Keeping a couple of packs of butterfly food handy is well worth while as the food has a long storage life as long as it’s not mixed with water. Once it’s mixed it is very quick and easy to use. If you do have a late warm and sunny period then the butterflies may be thanking you for their lunch.