Nature on our doorsteps: Helping our butterflies

By Rosaleen Dwyer

We have 35 different species of butterfly in Ireland. About 20 of these are referred to as being ‘general countryside butterflies’ and are found not just throughout the countryside, but also in our own gardens and parks.

The world, however, has become a challenging place for butterflies and for all insects.

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Green-veined Whites are often seen flitting along damp hedgerows

Changing practices in agriculture have taken their toll on insect habitats.

Old hay meadows full of native wildflowers and grasses have been replaced with silage fields, which grow just one or two grass species.

 

The use of chemicals in agriculture and in our own gardens has also had dire consequences.

Kilometres of hedgerows have also been lost, not just to intensive agriculture but also to expanding development.

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The Holly Blue relies on holly and ivy in the hedgerows for food

Hedgerows are vital habitats for at least a dozen butterfly species. Adults feed on pollen and nectar from wildflowers, bramble, and the flowers of hawthorn, blackthorn and elder.

Caterpillars feed on plant leaves and wild grasses, while the dense hedgerow vegetation offers a sheltered place for adults to mate and lay eggs.

Our gardens and parks can offer a safe place for butterflies, particularly if we retain hedgerows, if we leave some grass to grow long, if we do not ‘tidy’ too much, if we avoid using chemicals, and if we encourage wild flowers that are rich in nectar.

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