Being dependent on wild plants and the open countryside butterflies and moths are particularly vulnerable to changes in their environment. Today of course, most of these changes are man made and in recent times many species of butterfly around the world have become first rare, then endangered and finally extinct.
There are many things we can do as individuals to help wildlife conservation, for example, leaving a corner of our gardens to grow wild with uncut grass. You could encourage or even plant the food plants for many of our native butterflies, or perhaps plant an area full of plants rich in nectar to provide food for the butterflies.
How to make your garden more "natural" and encourage butterflies and other wildlife.
It is possible to have a "natural garden" that need not be messy or wild and still produce good flowers and vegetables. To encourage a variety of wildlife you need to grow a selection of plants that are rich in nectar and will attract different kinds of insect to either feed or lay eggs. Good examples are alyssum, aubretia, wallflower, budleia, verbena, michaelmas daisy, heliotrope, phlox and ice plant. You need to allow a small area to grow wild with uncut grass and encourage or even plant food plants for butterflies to lay their butterfly eggs on. These can be nettles, bramble, campion, garlic mustard and dandelion. If these are present in a garden the butterflies will lay eggs and the caterpillars when they hatch will become food for birds. In this way, the choice of food for the wildlife can be increased. It’s a good idea to leave a pile of logs or branches to rot. Here beetles, woodlice and centipedes can find shelter. Then at night they become gardeners friends by eating many garden pests.
Leave as little earth uncovered as possible because creatures need plants for food and shelter. Bare earth is only a good habitat for those creatures that live in the soil such as earthworms. Try not to use chemical sprays, with a little extra care and time your garden can be kept looking good without harming the wildlife. On a larger scale, it is important that the natural habitats of the butterflies are no longer destroyed to make way for the demands of mankind. Particularly hedgerows, natural open grassland and woodland areas. Also the chemicals and pesticides used to kill certain insects (which are pests but also kill butterflies) need to be restricted. The growth of organic farming practices is a great step forward in this respect but the development of genetically modified crops resistant to certain herbicides is of grave concern and requires a thorough independent assessment of the risks and potential benefits both to mankind and wildlife. Governments in some Far East countries and South America are now encouraging butterfly ranching (large scale breeding of butterflies in their natural habitats) to provide the native population with an income that is an alternative to cutting down the rain forests, to provide timber and make way for farmland. In this way natural habitats are maintained for all sorts of animals, not just the butterflies, the local population receive an income from selling the butterfly pupa and butterflies, which are not sold overseas to Butterfly Houses, are released back into the wild.
For more information on conserving butterflies in your area, please contact your local branch of Butterfly Conservation or your local Wildlife Trust.