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Why The Big Butterfly Count and bird seed suppliers like us have more in common than you might think

Why The Big Butterfly Count and bird seed suppliers like us have more in common than you might think

Why The Big Butterfly Count and bird seed suppliers like us have more in common than you might think

We love wild birds ­ but you probably guessed that from our company name. What you might not know is that our regard for other wild creatures is (at least almost!) as great. After all, the overall health of the ecosystem keeps our favourite birds happy and healthy too.

I'm sad to say then that we were very surprised this week to hear that so many beautiful butterfly types are on the decline in the UK and around the world. It seems to be a trend which has been unfolding over several years, with many complex causes. Much like the declining bee population, no one is sure if there is one primary cause, but most experts seem to agree that various recent changes in human activity and the environment are to blame.

As I say, apart from the sadness of the immediate impact on the lovely butterfly species we know and love, the impact of diminishing butterfly counts on the ecosystem as a whole is significant, and could even be a grave threat to the ecology of this little island.

Stephen Dickie, an expert on the subject explains: "Birds plan their whole breeding season around when caterpillars will be most abundant. If the butterfly and caterpillar numbers are depleted then there's not going to be a lot of food for developing chicks." You see, when we understand the practical role of butterflies in the context of the wider eco­system, it becomes very clear that wild birds could be indirectly under threat.

Butterflies are lower members of the food chain. That means they are food for all sorts of larger animals, including wild birds, mice, hedgehogs and so on. As butterfly populations fall, so will those of birds and other animals that use them as a food source. I was surprised to find out that almost two­thirds of invertabrates can be connected to the butterfly in the food chain. So you see the loss of this beautiful but seemingly insignificant little insect could seriously damage or even collapse the food chains of the creatures that live on them.

A 2011 report titled 'The state of british butterflies' by the Butterfly Conservation Society http://butterfly­­state­of­britains­butterflies.html found that 72% of butterfly species decreased in abundance over 10 years and 54% decreased in distribution at the UK level. Overall three­quarters of UK butterflies showed a 10­year decrease in either their distribution or population levels. That's worrying!

Butterflies don't just provide food for birds and other small creatures either... Nearly 90% of all plants need a pollinator to reproduce. If you consider that in the context of a rapidly shrinking bee population I think you will appreciate that butterflies become even more important. Without them, many plant species would be unable to reproduce, resulting in their populations decreasing. Those plant types provide food, seeds for birds and, of course in the case of trees, also their homes! So as you see, the ongoing reduction in butterfly numbers impacts wild birds both directly and indirectly.

So what we can do to help butterflies, and the plants and creatures which depend upon them?

1. First, it's important to ensure butterflies have habitats to feed and breed. Longer grass is essential for egg­laying insects (including butterflies) so leave a bit of lawn untrimmed. The more the better. Now you have a fantastic excuse to spend less time with that mower!

2. We'd be remiss if we didn't mention that you can buy wild bird feed online in the UK. We are of course one of many such bird seed suppliers. Feeding wild birds directly is useful because by topping up the ecosystem with some feed, you're supporting the local bird population and easing the pressure on the natural ecosystem (more full bird tummies mean fewer munched caterpillars) at the same time.

3. Avoid the use of pesticides and weed killers. If I have to choose between a weedy patio or a garden without fluttering butterflies and birdsong I know exactly what to do with that weed killer!

4. Butterflies prefer open spaces which are sunny yet sheltered; this makes woodland glades ideal for them. If you have the space and inclination then you can try to recreate this environment in your garden. Large trees and shrubs are a wonderful source of shelter and food for butterflies and birds.

5. Grow some plants which caterpillars love­,these include holly, ivy and buckthorn. Think of it as a long term investment in the health and happiness of your birds too.

Finally, you can join the Big Butterfly Count. This is running between the 17th of July and 9th of August. You can visit their website at for full details including an illustrated butterfly chart in order to identify the Gatekeepers, Peacocks, Small whites, Holly blues, and Meadow brown butterflies in our countryside.

I had no idea that there are so many beautiful butterflies around for us all to enjoy, it's so sad they are on the decline and if we can make a small difference in participating in this count and taking as many of the positive steps above as we can then why not! Thanks and good luck, John and Sally Burstal