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Join the big butterfly count

PUBLISHED: 14:01 01 July 2014

Comma butterfly, Polygonia c-album,

Comma butterfly, Polygonia c-album,

© RSPB-IMAGES AND ITS IMAGE CONTRIBUTORS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This image is protected by international copyright laws and dist

Agnes Rothon of the RSPB explains how you can help the county's struggling butterfly population

Peacock butterfly Inachis io, on buddleia, UK, Aug...Peacock butterfly Inachis io, on buddleia, UK, Aug...

The American novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne once said, ‘happiness is a butterfly.’

Having studied the pretty pink aquilegia flowers outside my kitchen window and admired the hordes of butterflies enjoying its nectar rich bells, I couldn’t agree more.

Nothing says ‘summer’ more than a butterflies delicately painted wings

and fluttering path from one brightly coloured plant to another.

'Wild Art' event, young girl taking part in activity, Coombes Valley RSPB reserve, Leek, Staffordshire, July 2012'Wild Art' event, young girl taking part in activity, Coombes Valley RSPB reserve, Leek, Staffordshire, July 2012

At this time of year plenty of butterflies will be on the wing in our gardens. Keep an eye out for frilly-winged commas, striking red admirals and bright orange tips fluttering amongst your beds and borders.

Further afield you might be lucky enough to catch some of the rarer species too.

Take a trip to the RSPB’s Minsmere nature reserve to see the stunning silver-studded blue. These pretty butterflies like the heathland habitat at the reserve where the silvery-blue wings of the males provide a marvellous sight as they fly low over the heather. The females are brown and far less conspicuous but, like the male, have distinct metallic spots on their hindwings. In late afternoon the butterflies often congregate to roost on sheltered bushes or grass tussocks providing a glorious spectacle for anyone lucky enough to see.

During July and August, Butterfly Conservation, an organisation dedicated to saving butterflies, moths and our environment, are holding their annual Big Butterfly Count. The Big Butterfly Count is a nationwide survey aimed to help us the health of our environment. Butterflies are the insect equivalent of the ‘canary in a coal mine’ – if populations of butterflies are faring well it is likely that our environment is providing the right kind of conditions to allow a multitude of other animals and plants to thrive. What’s more as butterflies react very quickly to change in their environment they are excellent biodiversity indicators. Butterfly declines are an early warning for other wildlife losses.

The survey was launched in 2010 and has rapidly become the world’s biggest count of butterfly populations. Over 46,000 people took part in 2013, counting 830,000 individual butterflies and day-flying moths across the UK. The count will also assist us in identifying trends in species that will help conservationists plan how to protect butterflies from extinction, as well as understand the effect of climate change on wildlife.

With so many species on the decline it is important that we do all we can to help our butterflies. Butterflies need warmth to be active and fly, and they need to drink nectar for energy. Provide both, and you’ll have a butterfly haven in your garden.

Try to plant plenty of different nectar plants that flower throughout spring, summer and autumn, in a sheltered, sunny spot. If you have a large garden, you could also leave a ‘wild area’. If this doesn’t appeal, plant some attractive wild plants, such as scabious and valerian, among the cultivated ones instead. Don’t forget to include caterpillar food plants too, if you want butterflies to breed in your garden. What’s more, some adult butterflies hibernate, so it is also a good idea to provide places for them to hide – for instance, a hedge or ivy on a fence. This might mean you may see early spring butterflies in your garden – a win-win situation!

For more information on RSPB Flatford please visit www.rspb.org.uk/reserves or call 01206 391153.

To learn how to take part in the Big Butterfly Count please go to www.bigbutterflycount.org

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