Butterfly Explorers

By Kaska, photos by Jennifer and KaskaHeading out for the Big Butterfly Count

Heading out for the Big Butterfly Count.This week’s Earth Explorers theme was inspired by the Big Butterfly Count which takes place every summer. The count is one of the largest citizen science projects in the UK, and the largest butterfly survey in the world. It is aimed at understanding the health of our environment. Over 36,000 people took part in 2016, counting almost 400,000 individual butterflies and day-flying moths across the UK. That’s pretty awesome!

We had the biggest turnout yet with 6 young explorers joining the session and getting busy with all things butterfly…in fact we got so busy we almost forgot to take any photos!

We kicked off with a short video about butterfly lifecycle…did you know that butterfly caterpillars grow 20 times longer within two weeks? That’s like a human child growing to a size of a 3-storey building!

Then we got to know our Big Count butterflies by playing the ‘Who am I?’ game using the survey chart (you can download one here). It really got us looking closely at each of the butterflies and their special features and soon were were able to tell at least some of them apart. It was not as easy as it looks!

We grabbed our charts and the butterfly net and ventured into the garden to see what we could find…Unfortunately, the weather was not in our favour – overcast and a bit windy. Butterflies are fussy about the weather and only poke their noses out from their hideaways when its hot, sunny and still! Even so we managed to catch three green veined whites in the grassy area around the old curling pond. Only after we caught them in our net were we able to tell them apart from the other two whites by the dark colouring of the veins on their wing undersides. Their close relatives – large and small white – had been visiting our veg beds to lay their eggs on cabbages, their caterpillar food plant. We have put nets over the plants to stop them from doing this, but still some of them must get through as we saw some caterpillar damage on the cabbage leaves.

We came back to the polytunnel for a tutorial from Peter on how to make semi-hard wood cuttings to grow some the butterfly bush (or Buddleja) seedlings.  Its nectar-rich flowers are very popular with butteflies and attract large numbers of them – a perfect butterfly watching station for your garden! We used an unusual variety with flowers arranged into orange balls (Buddleja x weyeriana Sungold). It is supposed to be better than the more common purple-flowered bush. It does not produce seeds so it will not become a weed in your garden and beyond. And it also flowers for longer, providing butterflies with nectar well into the autumn.

We finished off by decorating recycled tins with butterfly decoupage made from our Big Count identification charts (and some of our gardening magazines). They will make for a perfect butterfly plant pots once our Budleja cuttings take root in 4-6 weeks time (fingers crossed)!

Phew! That was a busy session and we got lots done in an hour and a half. Let us know if your cuttings take root – ours are still working on theirs in the polytunnel:)

Oh, just to say that The Big Butterfly Count is over for this year but you can do some butterfly citizen science all year round in your own garden by taking part in the Garden Butterfly Survey.

Butterfly Explorers Resources

  • The Big Butterfly Count website has more information on the project and a downloadable butterfly identification chart (we used the chart for the ‘Who am I?’ game and upcycled it in our butterly plant pot decoration).
  • iRecord Butterflies is a great mobile app with a full butterfly identification guide. You can also submit butterfly records through it all year round.
  • There a number of useful videos showing how to take Buddleja cuttings, e.g. this one from Brimwood Farm. Or you can join us for one of Peter’s workshops;) If you don’t have much space you may also like to have a go sowing some Plant Pots for Pollinators. Growing butterfly-friendly plants from seed would work best in the spring or early summer.
  • There are also lots of instructions on how to upcycle old tin cans with decoupage online – here is one example.

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