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Phase I

'Of all our species of wildlife that are in decline,
our butterflies are faring the worst'

Sir David Attenborough

James Leigh

James Leigh
Founder, Camden Butterfly Trust




"Bring Back the Butterflies" is a community project that seeks to encourage residents of Camden to get involved with wildlife, especially butterfly conservation.

This can be done by creating the habitats wherein nature can thrive; whether in private or public gardens, parks or indeed anywhere where there is space to grow wildlife-friendly plants and flowers.

There are ten categories:

Butterflies are the most highly visible of all the myriad species of insects.  These colourful, delicate creatures are a delight to see when in flight or feeding on nectar-rich flowers and plants.  Children are especially fond of butterflies and it is through children that we hope to instil a love and respect of nature for future generations.

"We seem to have lost that ancient kinship with nature
that, not so long ago, was instinctive to us".



Private Gardens

Due to the ever-increasing human population, wildlife all over the world is being marginalised.  Even in our own country wildlife, both flora and fauna, is being pushed to the periphery of our civilised existence.  Private gardens cover a greater acreage than all our nature reserves put together.

The potential for wildlife conservation here is immense, but recent gardening practises, such as decking and patios to create fashionable outside rooms — smothering the soil with plastic membranes that are then covered with gravel — the introduction of exotic, low maintenance plants — create desert-like environments that are hostile to our native wildlife.

The use of pesticides have an even longer history of deterring wildlife from our gardens.  Used in neat well-trimmed gardens, these lethal pesticides have proved to be counter-productive as they kill beneficial insects as well as the pests.  By going organic you will be letting nature take on the task of pest control — a chemical-free garden will attract wildlife.  A garden sanitised by obnoxious chemicals will not.

So, a green garden will be required to attract wildlife that will keep you fascinated by its sheer diversity - its eye-pleasing forms and subtle pastel hues, enchanting fragrances ... a hedonist paradise.

Nectar producing plants and flowers need sunny sheltered places in which to thrive.  So if your garden has such places, please grow as many of them as you can.  But if you only have space for a few, even just one, you will be contributing to the project and thus helping insects, especially butterflies and bumble bees, to regenerate after seven consecutive wet summers, (2012 being the worst), that have decimated their numbers.

This is a list of Butterfly Conservation's top ten nectar plants:

  1. Buddleia
  2. Ice Plant
  3. Lavender
  4. Michaelmas Daisy (Aster)
  5. Marjoram
  6. Red Valerian
  7. Aubretia
  8. Field Scabious
  9. Scabious
  10. Bramble

Butterflies in flight mean that they are seeking a mate. That's why nectar plants such as the above are so important.  They need to refuel as they search. Females will need plants on which to lay their eggs — caterpillar host plants. Stinging nettles are the all-round favourite.

So if you can grow a patch of these in a sunny sheltered place in your garden, you will contribute to the conservation of these beautiful delicate creatures.  For the more adventurous, a small wildflower meadow with a pond would be a great advantage as several of the local species that lay their eggs on wildflowers.  So please take part in the project by adopting as many of these suggestions as possible.


Street Flowerbeds & Horse Troughs

If your friend bought a red car, you would start seeing them everywhere.
This can also apply to those inconspicuous street flowerbeds you may now notice — they're everywhere!  There's one, a raised lavender bed near where I live that neither Camden nor EDF would accept responsibility for.  Much to the delight of my neighbours, I have replanted it with a selection of nectar-rich plants to await the arrival of visiting butterflies and bees.

So if you come across one of these flowerbeds, enquire who in Camden tends them.  Ask, as part of the "Bring Back the Butterflies" project, if you can introduce a few butterfly-friendly plants.  Remove any flora that's not conducive to wildlife conservation.  But be discrete as they are public sites and other tastes must be catered for.  Even if there's only room for one plant, a Buddleia Davidii 'Black Knight' is highly recommended.

The importance of even a few nectar plants growing in these small street gardens, a horse trough or even a window box, could mean the life or death of a butterfly as it searches for a mate, or a female seeking the specific plant on which to lay her eggs.

These 'refuelling stations' could be the vital link as butterflies seek out, by sense of smell, the wildlife friendly butterfly conservation gardens that will be created throughout Camden, to make it the Wildlife Friendly borough of London.  So, if you know of one of these small street gardens, or a vacant patch of ground, get hold of a neighbour or two.  Make a sketch of the plot and its location, then contact Camden and tell them that, as part of the "Bring Back the Butterflies", you would like to introduce some butterfly plants (these will also attract bumble bees and other beneficial insects).

Your project will have to be financed by yourselves, perhaps through jumble sales or other means but remember — once started the garden must be maintained.  It can be handed down to the next generation as part of a living landscape — a heritage for all to enjoy.

As your project will be in the street you will find that people, curious as to what you are doing, will stop and have a chat.  But please do be mindful that it is a street and that means traffic — place traffic cones around where you are working as a safeguard.

That said — have fun and make sure one of your team has organised the tea and cakes.


The Parks

Our public parks provide us with an excellent opportunity to redress the balance between the recreational pleasures of people and the needs of wildlife.  Surrounded by tarmac and concrete, our parks are a refuge for both, the only difference being that we are casual visitors while these open places are the living spaces (24/7) for a myriad forms of wildlife whose right to existence is no less than our own.  To see butterflies in our parks, one has to walk around in the hope of catching a fleeting glimpse of one of these delightful creatures.  Not just the ubiquitous large or small whites, but the colourful varieties of the 20 other species that are indigenous to London.

But it is not just for the butterflies that we will be creating our 'wildlife-friendly butterfly conservation gardens'.  After four butterfly-unfriendly summers all forms of insects hve had their numbers decimated by this inclement weather.  Bees especially seemed to have suffered while hoverflies and all those other insects, that we cannot name, seem conspicuous by their absence.  Even more reason then to create these gardens where a mass concentration of nectar-rich plants and flowers should attract and give sustenance while we, to our delight, observe them.

Limited by space our gardens, both private and public, can provide islands of refuge for wildlife, but they will be fragmented and difficult for wildlife to interact.  What is needed is a focal point, a breeding base; spacious wildlife-friendly butterfly gardens established in our parks of at least an acre.  With all four features mentioned on this website, such gardens would attract many visitors and thus spread the message that we, the most intelligent of all earth's creatures, are morally responsible for the future survival of wildlife with which we share this singular planet.


Housing Estates

The amount of available space, for the creation of wildlife-friendly butterfly conservation gardens on housing estates, is prodigious.  Vast areas, covered with evergreen grass that has to be mown once a week throughout the growing season with the attendant waste and cost.  Just think what it would look like if these grounds were transformed into areas abounding in a profusion of colour and fragrance.  Seating places where you could 'chill out' in the cool-calm of a summer's evening with the fragrance of honeysuckle and jasmine wafting through the estate inviting your friends and neighbours to join you.

Children may be encouraged to switch off their televisions and computers and go down to the community garden where another more fascinating world awaits them.  There would be so much to discover and enjoy, both flora and fauna, that could even change their attitude to their environment which they could come to appreciate and enjoy.  All it would take is for the residents group to persuade their neighbours of the benefits to the entire community that such a garden would bring.

So, if you are inspired to 'do your bit for nature', contact Camden and inform them of your intentions.


Public Squares and Greens

I have known most of these public squares and greens in Camden for over fifty years — and they look very much the same.  Still with their Victorian layout of mown lawns, brightly coloured bedding that dazzle the eye and bordered with lifeless evergreen shrubs.  Isn't it time for a change — from monotonous green and scruffy pigeons to a tapestry of colour and song birds?  I think it is and you are the sort of people who can bring about this change.  It will take imagination, planning, enthusiasm, cooperative team work and yes, of course, money.  This will be discussed later on this website.

London probably has more public green space than any other city in the world.  But they do need to be brought into the 21st century where the environment and wildlife conservation have been brought onto the agenda by public-spirited people like yourselves; ordinary people who demand a certain degree of control in the improvements to their environment.  There can be no better improvement in our immediate environs than the creation of wildlife-friendly butterfly conservation gardens.  It has been generally accepted by the medical profession that being closer to nature, even just sitting quietly in a park or garden, has tremendous therapeutic benefits.  Imagine sitting or strolling through one of our green spaces filled with the colour and fragrance of beautiful flowers, the sound of songbirds and the fleeting evanescence of colourful butterflies.

If you too have a vision of our public city gardens in full bloom, then take up the challenge to make Camden the wildlife-friendly borough of the capital.


Local Business Premises

'Corporate social responsibility' is a phrase that has sprung up (probably) since the UK government signed the 'Rio Convention' in 1992.  This was to halt the decline in biodiversity by adopting the 'UK Biodiversity Action Plan'.  Biodiversity simply means having a variety of species, both flora and fauna, existing in the same place.  London is part of this action plan that seeks to encourage corporate businesses to finance conservation projects.  The 'Bring Back the Butterflies' project also seeks, on a more personal level, to encourage local businesses to utilise any 'spare' ground on their premises.  By utilise I mean having parts of their grounds converted into wildlife-friendly butterfly conservation gardens.  What they have now is a monotonous array of low maintenance plants that cover the soil as if it were something that had to be hidden from public view.

As the representative of a group, approach the management with your proposal; that you would like to introduce butterfly-friendly flora, both nectar and caterpillar host plants, to the grounds of their premises.  If itís a large concern, you will probably be directed to the head office.  Get a named person and their telephone number if possible.  Send him/her a letter, (not an email), describing, briefly, your group's wishes.  They will usually take some time in answering, so you will have to contact them again.  Be persistent but not tiresome.  Remember they are busy people with more important, (they think), things to do.  Impress on them that by taking part in the Bring Back the Butterflies project, they will receive dividends from their appreciative customers by creating a colourful, scented butterfly garden on their premises.


The Grounds of Local Public Authorities

Land in London is at a premium for buildings for human needs.  What is left over, the grounds, are usually covered with monotonous evergreen plants that attract neither wildlife nor a second glance from the human population.  Land in London is also at a premium for wildlife that is overlooked when it comes to the planting up of these valuable spaces.  A culture of human needs first has arisen.  Needs, that is, not to have to bother with the maintenance of these grounds that could be a vital link between established wildlife havens — the nature reserves that are scattered about the borough of Camden.  Visit any of these and you'll get a feel, an insight into what we're missing — contact with nature.

As with the red cars, if you begin to see the potential that there is around London for the establishing of gardens for wildlife, or even just the planting of a few wildlife-friendly shrubs and flowers — a lawn converted into a low maintenance wildflower meadow — you will see that there is room enough for both humans and wildlife in our busy overcrowded city.  To change this 'culture of human needs first' we must change our attitude towards wildlife and not see it as something alien but as something intrinsic in our nature as human beings.

But what can I do as an individual?

Form a group of like-minded individuals and approach the public relations officer of your local Hospital, School or Government premises.  Arrange a meeting when you can discuss the possibilities of transforming parts, (the sunny areas), of their municipal grounds into wildlife-friendly spaces.  By creating habitats for wildlife, especially butterflies, the collective effect will be to green our great city and make it full of colour, fragrance and with a variety of species, both flora and fauna, that will enhance the quality of life for all.


Cemeteries and Churchyards

Cemeteries are places of rest both for the quick and the dead.  Even more than our parks, we can sit in quiet contemplation of our own private, individual lives surrounded by life, that is wildlife, creatures that are less conscious of their being.

Most of these valuable spaces have a friendís group.  As an individual, or if you are part of a group, approach the chairman with your ideas.  Arrange a meeting to discuss the possibilities of transforming parts of these vital spaces into havens for life, human and otherwise.


Derelict Sites

If you see one of these derelict sites, ask your local council who owns it.  Then send a letter, (not an email), asking them what they intend doing with it.  Are they going to sell or build on it?  If the answer is neither, then ask them if they would allow you to create a butterfly conservation on their piece of wasted ground.  Arrange with them a long-term contract for at least ten years — you'll need this to get any funding.  This also applies to all the other potential sites your butterfly eyes might alight upon.


Local Nature Reserves

These tend to be small areas left after human building needs have been satisfied.  They are maintained by dedicated groups of volunteers who have a committee, a bank account, and hold regular meetings.  These quiet places are well worth a visit.  Children especially like to explore and discover the varieties of wildlife to be found there.  If you feel that more could be done to attract butterflies to these sites, contact the chairman via the Camden index.  But remember, being Nature reserves, you will only be able to introduce native flowers and plants.


What do we do now?

Once your group has obtained a majority in favour of your proposal, may I suggest that you go to the place where you intend to create your wildlife-friendly butterfly conservation garden.  Sit there quietly for a while; try to get the feel of the place.  Let your imagination drift over the area as the ideas form in your collective minds through discussion and compromise.  Determine the places where the sun shines most and where the shady areas are.  Establish the lie of the land, its dips, rises and hollows.  Make your mistakes on paper by taking photos and drawing sketches.  Test the soil for its ph (acid-alkaline) levels.  Simple kits can be bought from your local garden centre.  Dig a small hole to find out how deep your topsoil is and the condition of the subsoil.  If it's clay, as it probably will be, then it will have to be treated for drainage by adding horticulture (sharp) sand.  Take time over this and make sure that you have reached a consensus before you start work.

There are four features to this kind of garden:

The cultivated area is where the flowers and plants that attract butterflies (amongst many other kinds of insects) will be grown.  It has to be the sunniest spot and facing south.  The soil has to be rich in nutrients and well drained.  It has to be sheltered from those withering north-easterly winds.  Brick walls encourage the wind to whip over the top and whirl around your garden.  Better to erect willow/hazel hurdle fencing.  Instead of whipping over the top, these fences dissipate and calm the wind.  There will, no doubt, already be some plants in the planned cultivated area.  You will have to decide what to keep and what to take out.  It would of course be preferable to have the area cleared of all extant vegetation.  Then you would have a bare canvas on which to create your horticultural masterpiece.







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