The renowned Hampton Court Palace is hosting a Flower Show from the 2nd of July to the 8th, and amongst the beautiful gardens and inspiring floral blooms, the show features a Butterfly Dome, which visitors can walk through and literally immerse themselves in fluttering butterflies.
If you love butterflies or perhaps have young children that do, and can’t make it to Hampton Court, why not make it an activity to watch for butterflies this month in your garden? Butterflies are a well-known pollinator and with their numbers diminishing year on year, every little action taken can help to make a difference to these fascinating insects. You could take part in the Big Butterfly Count which begins on the 20th July. Their website has more details and a handy chart that you can print out and identify butterflies that are visiting your garden.
If you wish to support and attract more butterflies in your garden, the first place to begin is to feed them with pollen-rich plants. UK butterflies enjoy a wealth of flowers and herbs, such as: bluebells, marigolds, buttercups, hyacinth, clover, garden mint, knapweed, thistles, blackberry bushes, heather, lilacs, lavender, Bowles’ Mauve wallflower, marjoram, milkweed, privet, sage and willowherbs. Experts suggest sowing plants which flower throughout the year, as these will support different species of butterfly. It is also important to water your plants regularly, as if the plants are left too dry they will not produce enough pollen.
Not many people know that if you come across a weak butterfly, this can actually be given dissolved sugar in water, similarly to when saving a bee. In the case of a butterfly, soak a sponge in the sugary water and leave it close to the butterfly to encourage them to rest upon it.
There are many species which are flying around the UK in July, although this has decreased in numbers lately as several have become extinct. In 2016, 70% of the UK’s butterflies experienced a decline, which experts claimed was due to a mild winter and a cold spring. By 2017, British butterflies had suffered their seventh worst year on record. There are two significantly declining species in particular that it is worth looking out for; the Grayling (Hipparchia Semele) and the Grizzled Skipper (Pyrgus malvae).
The Grayling is in light and dark brown with white tones and an eye-spot on a soft orange patch in its upper wings. The chameleon of the butterfly world, it is very adept at blending into earthy surroundings. The grayling is mostly seen around the coast, however, so unless you have a home along the British coastline, you may be more likely to spot it if you are venturing away from home on a day trip!
The Grizzled Skipper is the second, which is moth-like with a furry body and dark brown/black and white patterned wings. The Grizzled Skipper enjoys environments such as chalklands, glades and clearings, so could be attracted by natural chalk deposits and open areas in a wild garden. It lays singular eggs, which are pale green and dome-shaped, in warm spots on the undersides of leaves, and the caterpillars to watch out for are small and yellow.
Moths are also rather under-rated but can actually be very pretty and are still useful pollinators. Some rare species which would be good to keep an eye out for are the Netted Carpet, (Eustroma reticulate) and the Argent & Sable (Rheumaptera hastate) both pretty black and white moths with patterned wings, last recorded as seen in Lancashire over eight years ago.
It can be difficult to identify moth caterpillars, but you are much more likely to find a moth caterpillar than a butterfly one. If you or your children do find a caterpillar in your garden, this handy booklet will help you identify it and also gives advice on how to rear a caterpillar.
Good luck butterfly hunting!