Boosting Butterflies at Abbotsford

10th Apr 2021

Ranger Anna talks monitoring and encouraging butterfly populations at Abbotsford and tips for helping conserve butterflies in your own garden

As I mentioned in my last blog post, historic data we have on our butterfly populations provides us with the opportunity for concentrating our efforts on developing areas that will attract certain butterflies.

Abbotsford is an incredibly special place, with a great variety of mixed habitats that are ideal for butterflies. The idea is to form a patchwork of habitats to encourage butterflies to extend the areas they already commonly inhabit on site to broaden their range. For example, we see a lot of butterflies in the Walled Garden and on the meadow at the North Court, but we are not seeing so many up at the meadow near the Visitor Centre. If we can fill in some of the gaps by introducing targeted areas, or corridors, of planting it is hoped we can encourage our butterfly populations to flourish and grow. This will hopefully attract species that we maybe haven’t seen at Abbotsford for a number of years.

Most butterflies need a certain plant to lay their eggs on and food plants that they will feed from in their adult butterfly form. This makes butterflies extremely susceptible to habitat change as they can rely on very specific plants. As a result, we know which plants will attract the butterflies we are trying to encourage and we can adapt our management techniques used on the estate to take this into consideration.

Butterflies that have not been recorded frequently at Abbotsford over the last seven years include the orange tip, small copper, common blue, small tortoiseshell and meadow brown, with some of these species declining on a national scale as well. We will be planting pollinator friendly wildflowers that will be attractive to these species, including birds foot trefoil, ragged robin and meadow buttercup, in the hopes that this will encourage their return and boost of their numbers. It will have the added benefit of encouraging butterfly populations at Abbotsford that already appear to be doing well and will also benefit our bumblebee populations.

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There are also other management strategies we can implement to encourage existing populations on the estate. For example, many butterflies such as the peacock and red admiral lay their eggs on nettles, which is also the caterpillar food plant. To help conserve these butterflies, we can make efforts not to clear nettles on the estate, particularly before June/July when these caterpillars transform into butterflies.

Things you can do in your garden to help conserve our butterflies include:

  • Don't cut back nettles back until later in the season and if you do need to, check the nettles for caterpillars before cutting;
  • Allow areas of your garden to go to meadow;
  • Don’t cut ivy back until late in the year so resident butterflies have an autumnal food source;
  • Leave fallen fruit on the ground as an autumnal food source.
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