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A safety net for butterflies; With a growing number of species now in danger of extinction, gardeners are being urged to join the Big Butterfly Count to help assess the state of our wildlife.

Since creating a meadow area in his own back garden three years ago, Sir David Attenborough has enjoyed an influx of wildlife and is hoping to see a wide range of butterflies visiting it this year.

"I have an area of meadow turf with a mown lawn walkway through it and I see a number of butterflies - meadow browns, cabbage whites and occasionally tortoiseshells. I haven't seen a red admiral for a number of years but I used to."

As president of Butterfly Conservation, Sir David will be taking part in this year's Big Butterfly Count, in which members of the public are asked to report sightings to give the charity a clearer picture of the nation's butterflies.

The small tortoiseshell enjoyed its best year for a decade last summer but migrants, including red admirals and painted lady, struggled.

"The count helps us a great deal," says Sir David. "It provides a recognition chart from a scientifically accurate army of observers, whose results give all kinds of important information.

"Last year was a good year for butterflies, in that a lot of species came back or increased in numbers. But the decline in British butterflies is still going on. Last year was an optimistic blip."

Three-quarters of the UK's butterflies are in decline and one third are in danger of extinction, according to the charity.

"This is bad news for butterflies and bad news for the UK's birds, bees, bats and other wildlife. Butterflies are a key indicator species of the health of our environment - if they are struggling, other species are struggling also," says Sir David.

"Butterflies are pollinators, pollinating the countryside. To have pollinators means you have a healthy and renewing countryside."

Butterflies have declined because the number of wild places in the countryside have diminished as agriculture has become more efficient, he says.

"But if you put together all our suburban gardens, they form a huge area in the British landscape and they can help replace those wild places that agriculture has taken over."

He adds that gardeners can do their bit to help. "Gardeners can allow a small patch of their cultivated, cosseted garden to go wild. You may not like nettles or brambles but they provide food for quite a range of butterflies."

Plants including buddleia, Verbena bonariensis, lavender, perennial wallflowers and marjoram are all magnets for butterflies.

Choose sunny, sheltered spots to plant nectar-rich flowers right through the butterfly season. Spring flowers are vital for butterflies coming out of hibernation, while autumn flowers help butterflies build up their reserves for winter.

Butterflies rallied last summer following their worst year but numbers were still below average.

Dr Tom Brereton, head of monitoring at Butterfly Conservation, says: "Our monitoring efforts will be vital in assessing whether we are on track to reverse butterfly declines."

? The Big Butterfly Count runs from July 19 to August 10. Visit www.bigbutterflycount.org.

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WARNING SIGNS... Red admirals are really struggling to survive

HE NOSE BEST... Sir David launches the Big Butterfly Count

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jul 12, 2014
Words:504
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