Monday 11 November 2019

My Protest Songs and Songs About the Environment

With the ongoing Climate Crisis and serious threat of extinction for so many species I have been writing and performing protests songs and songs that draw attention to the environment and to dangers to the wildlife of the world. I have four songs like this on my recent album Songs of the Now and Then, which is released in CD format and as a digital release on bandcamp, and was produced by Jayce Lewis. The CD is environmentally friendly because the tray and packaging is made from recycled eggbox. But now let’s take a look at the songs!
Where Does All The Plastic Go?
Where Does All The Plastic Go? Started life as a poem but I decided to make a song out of it because no one else in the world of music was singing about this problem that affects us all. There is a video made by Filipe Rafael and filmed in Portugal, and this video has had over 19,200 views on Facebook.

My song has been featured in The Portugal News and I was featured on the front page with a caption: “Singing Against Pollution P11.” It has also been featured in a book by Italian radio host and author Filippo Solibello.
In SPAM Stop Plastic A Mare, the author has given a 4-page chapter to it entitled Where Does All The Plastic Go? Filippo has been promoting his book and my song all over Italy and managed to get a copy to Pope Francis. He is also spreading the word about my idea for an Ocean Aid concert, like Band Aid and Live Aid but this time to raise awareness of the crisis at sea caused by plastic pollution , as well as overfishing and other threats to life in the oceans.
I am hoping that this concert will happen and will attract not only big sponsors but very big name bands and singers, who will be willing to take part. Money raised can be distributed to charities helping the oceans. Which ones is yet to be decided on but there are many. Streaming and free downloads of Where Does All The Plastic Go? are available at Reverb Nation.

The Nightingale
The Nightingale, is a song that not only talks about the threat of habitat destruction that is causing a serious decline in this iconic songbird , but talks about the problems caused by development schemes all over the UK and elsewhere. Land-grabs of green belt and forested areas are causing an incredible amount of destruction of the homes of a vast number of species of wildlife. It makes reference too, to the ongoing felling of trees in cities and towns. The song starts with the lyrics: “You’ll never hear a nightingale if their homes are no longer there, destroyed by a developer who doesn’t really care, despite their claims otherwise about biodiversity, ripped up hedges and bulldozed land’s the reality I see.” The Nightingale features vocals from well-known Welsh poet Mab Jones on the choruses. This song is very topical due to all the protests that continue in the UK, where people are trying their best to stop the destruction of the forests and countryside. As I write, there are ongoing demonstrations to Stop HS2, but many more protests are taking place to save the wild places of Britain.
Citizen of Earth
Citizen Of Earth is actually an old song of mine that has been brought up to date with a new recording. I have been aware of the problems the world faces for a long time but everything has got so much worse. This is why I am making protest songs my focus. Citizen of Earth makes reference to the cult TV series The Prisoner, which starred Patrick McGoohan as Number Six. It talks about social unrest and about how people are trapped in a system that is similar in many ways to the Roman Empire. “The Roman Empire was much like today, Patricians and Plebeians and social decay, until the fires burned it all away, the ghost of Nero’s still fiddling. Citizen of Earth has been played on Roque Duarte’s show on the radio in Portugal and has inspired two very different videos. One was made by Ludgero Corvo and the other is an animation by Simon C. Watch them both and see which one you like best!

Butterfly In My Beard

Butterfly In My Beard is the most lighthearted of these songs, though it still raises awareness about wildlife, in this case it is talking about butterflies. I rear these insects and the verses of my song refer to real-life incidents. I have had Monarch butterflies on my beard. The second verse goes: “They called me the Bugman on the news one time…. they called me the Bugman on the news, a Hissing Cockroach on my head got plenty of views…” These lyrics are about the time I was in the South Wales Echo in an article about how I kept exotic insects. 
When I perform the song live I get the audience to join in by “making butterflies” with their linked outstretched hands and by giving me a “yeah” at the right places. I am hoping to audition this song in front of the judges of Britain’s Got Talent.
Butterfly In My Beard at CamonesCinebar in Lisbon

Monday 28 October 2019

Grass growing after the rain is a help to some butterfly species

After the rains in Portugal

New grass blades - Photo: Steve Andrews

Drought-stricken Portugal has at last had the autumn rains arrive. The land is swiftly going green again. One type of plant that quickly recovers and shoots from dormant seeds is any one of most species of grass. This is wonderful news for many butterfly species that need grass for their caterpillars.
Speckled Wood - Photo: Steve Andrews

The Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria)  and Meadow Brown (Maniola jurtina) are two widely distributed butterflies that have larvae that feed on grass. Until recently female butterflies were presented with a major problem because most grass had shrivelled and died in the months of hot sunshine and little or no rain. Much of the countryside had become brown and dusty, and what vegetation that survived was tinder dry and in poor condition. However, millions of seeds have been left to germinate after being activated by the next showers of rain. It always amazes me to see how quickly the greenery returns to barren and dried up land that looks more like a desert. Not just grass but countless weeds and wildflowers swiftly cover the ground with their first shoots and seedling leaves. I delight in seeing so much going green again.
Brown ground going green again - Photo: Steve Andrews

Other butterflies

The Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas) is another butterfly that was sure to have problems in a drought and that I had seen here. Weeks ago there were many specimens of this pretty little butterfly flying on the scrubland and along paths through the woodland. The vegetation under the trees were all dead and brown and I couldn’t find any leaves of the food-plants this butterfly needs. Species of Sorrel and Dock (Rumex spp.) are the plants the female Small Copper must find to lay her eggs on. Sadly, where I live, as far as I could see, none of them were still growing and what was left was either underground or as seeds. I really don’t know what this butterfly does in such conditions and there are no Small Coppers still about here to take advantage of any new growth. If they have somehow survived I will find out next year. 
Small Copper - Photo: Steve Andrews

Two more butterflies already returning to the countryside here are Clouded Yellow (Colias croceus) and Small White (Pieris rapae). The former needs species of clovers and trefoils, and the latter looks for plants in the Cabbage family but can also use species of Mustard that grow wild. There should be plenty of food-plants for these butterflies in a while, once the seedlings have germinated and started growing again. This is what is happening here now. All plants that have been laying dormant underground as rootstocks or as seeds on the surface are being activated by the so welcome rains. It is wonderful news too, knowing that more rain is forecast for the rest of the week ahead. We need it!
Because butterfly females lay hundreds of eggs it gives them a far better chance of survival but it is still a mystery to me, as to how they get through periods when there are no green plants of the types they need to be found.
The Clouded Yellow

Thursday 24 October 2019

How a Supermarket Shrub Border Could Be A Butterfly Garden

My idea for a butterfly garden at the local supermarket

The shrub border and ground overlooking the supermarket
Every time I go to my nearest Continente supermarket branch here in Quinta do Conde, Portugal, I spend some time looking at the wildlife and plants growing in on a bank that overlooks the store and is planted in parts as a shrub border. Clumps of Lantana when in bloom attract butterflies, bees and Hummingbird Hawk-moths. In my mind it could be transformed easily into a butterfly garden. 

But let’s take a look at it as it is now. A lot of the ground gets very dry in hot weather but in wet weather it is covered in weeds. Wall Lizards have formed colonies and can often be seen basking on the concrete around fence posts by the pavement and along poles of wood used to terrace the ground. There is a Weeping Willow that is just about managing to hold its own and is a favourite place for flocks of House Sparrows to perch. Saplings of what looks like some type of Maple have been planted but out of four only one has survived the drought.
Sapling dying from lack of water

It remains to be seen whether the others will sprout now the rains have returned. Millions of ants live in nests in the ground and can often be seen making long trails from one part to another. But it is the butterflies that visit that have got me thinking that with a little bit of work this area could be made into a place where caterpillars could live and complete their transformations into chrysalis and then adult butterflies.The other day I was thinking about this and how all you would need would be a lot of clumps of Rue for the Swallowtails and Milkweed for Monarchs and that both these butterflies would do as well there as they do in the garden where I live. Amazingly, with these thoughts in my head, I was delighted to see a male Monarch and a Swallowtail feeding on nectar from the Lantana bushes. There was also a Small White and Painted Lady doing likewise. Sadly I had no camera with me at the time so couldn’t get photos of any of the butterflies.The Monarch had presumably flown all the way from the house where I live, which is about 15 minutes walk away. When I release butterflies I always wonder where they go. I know a few females always return to lay their eggs on plants I am growing for them but have no way of knowing what happens to the others. I also have no way of knowing if there are any more gardens in this town where Milkweed is grown, though I know there is plenty of Rue because it can be seen in many front gardens.

I have noted that the local Swallowtails are using the Rue in the gardens in preference to Fennel growing wild in the area. It is obvious why this is. Fennel, although an alternative food-plant for Swallowtail caterpillars, does not do well in the long periods of drought we have been having and it is often without any leaves. As I said earlier, Hummingbird Hawk-moths also feed at times from the Lantanas, though I haven’t seen many this year. It seems clear to me that butterflies and moths do a lot of flying about looking for mates and for food, for themselves and, if they are females, for their caterpillars. If a female Swallowtail had spied the Lantana flowers she might well have stopped to feed, and if she had seen a clump of Rue, she would probably have laid some eggs there. Monarch, Painted Lady, Small White and any other species females would do likewise if the plants their larvae need were growing on the supermarket's land. 
Two female Monarchs on Zinnias in my front garden

There is plenty of ground where other plants could be grown. The Rue would look after itself and is very drought resistant. Just a few clumps of this aromatic herb would result in more Swallowtails there. I could more or less guarantee it. I think it would be good for the public image of the supermarket, if it became known as a store that was helping the butterflies. And this could be done quite easily even though the ground I am talking about is next to a road and carpark. I have recently seen the news that the city of Hull in the UK has become a “Butterfly City,” because it has made the effort to plant many Buckthorns to feed the caterpillars of Brimstone butterflies. This pretty yellow butterfly is limited in its distribution by the availability of its food-plants, which are the Buckthorn and Alder Buckthorn. If Hull can do this so could any other city or town. I hope the idea catches on! Likewise my proposal for a butterfly garden alongside a supermarket could be extended much further. Any businesses or public buildings with land attached to them could have butterfly gardens. Parks and gardens could be improved by simply planting more plants and shrubs that butterflies and moths need. Tragically, the numbers of butterflies and moths worldwide are declining fast. I think this could be reversed if more plants were grown that these winged wonders need. I realise most people would just see some waste ground next to the supermarket and might well think my idea is crazy but that doesn't stop me believing what I have outlined here could work. If can turn out generation after generation of butterflies from a small patch of front garden just think what I could do with all that land! Imagine that: a supermarket with its own butterfly garden! Now how can I make my dream a reality?
Full view of the land overlooking the Continente supermarket

Saturday 19 October 2019

The Butterfly Guy

You can call me "The Butterfly Guy."

Steve Andrews The Butterfly Guy in Lisbon

I am becoming known for being a “Butterfly Guy,” because I rear butterflies and share my achievements on social media. I also gave a talk on the subject of Butterfly Gardening to a gardening club in the Algarve a year or so back, and wrote about the subject for Mediterranean Gardening and Outdoor Living magazine. I have a song entitled Butterfly In My Beard and I recently bought a shirt with butterflies all over it. I thought it would be a great public image to have and helps show my love for these amazing insects. Butterfly In My Beard has the lyrics: “They called me a Bugman on the news one time…” and this makes reference to when I was once featured in the South Wales Echo and given this title in a story about how I kept exotic insects.
Bugman Steve Andrews in the South Wales Echo
I first discovered the joys of helping butterflies and moths when I was a little boy and have been doing what I can to help them all my life since then. I used to keep caterpillars in jam-jars, feeding them whatever they needed, watching them transform into a chrysalis or pupa in a cocoon, and then await the day they emerged as a magnificent butterfly or moth. There’s a twofold pleasure gained from rearing a butterfly or moth from egg to adult. First of all there is the joy of seeing the amazing insect in all its glory on its first day as a winged insect, and secondly there is the pride you experience from knowing you helped.

Swallowtails and Monarchs

Swallowtail on my hand

Since I have been living in Portugal I have been rearing Monarch Butterflies (Danaus plexippus) and Swallowtails (Papilio machaon). I find it easy to do and would encourage other people to have a got at helping the butterflies in your area. You just need to grow the plants they need for their caterpillars and provide some flowering plants to provide nectar for the adults.

Female Monarch

Monarch female laying eggs on Milkweed
I grow Tropical Milkweed (Asclepias curassavica) for the Monarchs and Rue (Ruta graveolens) for the Swallowtails. I have also grown Balloonplant (Gomphocarpus fruticosus) for the Monarchs, and it is a better plant because it grows much bigger. It is also naturalised in some parts of Portugal so is a food source for the caterpillars of the Monarch Butterfly that can be found here. Sadly last winter killed mine plants of it, though my Tropical Milkweeds made it through. 
Tropical Milkweed

Last year I had four generations of Monarchs with on average 30 butterflies eclosing from their chrysalises each time. It has been the same this year and at the time of writing I have about that number of caterpillars here. This will be the last brood for the year. I am running out of plants that still have enough leaves and flowers on them to feed all the hungry larvae and some of the small ones in the garden are going to perish because there is simply not enough food for them. This is a common problem for anyone who goes in for helping the Monarchs. You need to grow a lot of their food-plants. I tend to keep the caterpillars indoors in sandwich boxes or especially prepared large empty plastic water-bottles.
Monarch caterpillars pupating
The latter container I slice through around the middle for easy access, and this can be taped over with sticky tape. I put some tissue in the bottom to catch the frass. I use this method of looking after the caterpillars because I have observed that wasps are a very serious predator that will take away all the larvae they can find on a plant. 
Swallowtails just keep on breeding throughout the year with butterflies flying in every month apart from December and January. They make it through in the chrysalis stage, which remains dormant through the coldest months. Like the female Monarchs, the female Swallowtails return to the garden here because it is somewhere they can lay their eggs. Fortunately for the Swallowtail, Rue is a commonly grown garden plant here. They will also use Fennel and Wild Carrot, but in my experience the caterpillars do not like changing from one plant to another. Where I live most of the Swallowtails are depending on the Rue in local gardens because the Fennel growing wild doesn’t do well in the droughts we have had and loses all its foliage.

The Moths too

Death's-head Hawk-moth

This year, I reared some Death’s-head Hawk-moths (Acherontia atropos) too. I must admit I got the eggs from Worldwide Butterflies, because although I have seen lots of photos and videos of caterpillars of this species shared on social media groups about nature in Portugal, I have not come across them in the town where I live. I used to live in Tenerife and the Death’s-head was a common moth there. I used to find the massive caterpillars on Thornapple (Datura stramonium) and Lantana (Lantana camara). This is a moth species that is lucky to have a very wide range of food-plants, unlike many species that only have a limited range of plants their caterpillars can eat.
Death's-head Hawk caterpillar
I fed my caterpillars on Potato and Privet, which are two of the alternative food sources for the larvae of this magnificent species. This moth gets its name from the marking like a skull on the back of its thorax. It can also squeak and is a very strange but beautiful creature. Unlike its caterpillars, which can eat many types of plant, the adult Death’s-head may have difficulty finding suitable food because it has a very short proboscis. One food it can eat, however, is honey, and this is why it is compelled to enter and rob beehives.
When I lived in the UK I used to keep various moth caterpillars there. I had a lot of success with the Poplar Hawk (Laothoe populi) and Eyed Hawk-moth (Smerinthus ocellatus). I grew a small Sallow tree in the garden and this attracted the female moths. Getting back to butterflies, at the same time in the UK, I had Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae) and Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) caterpillars on a patch of Stinging Nettles (Urtica dioica) I had growing. 
That is all you really need to do: grow plants that the caterpillars of butterflies and moths need as food, and provide food for the adults by growing flowers and flowering shrubs. I have Zinnias and a Buddleia/Butterfly Bush (Buddleia davidii), as two of the main attractions for butterflies and moths as sources of nectar. Feed the caterpillars and feed the adult insects and you will have success at helping moths and butterflies.
Monarch on Zinnia

Sunday 15 September 2019

What Do Butterflies Do In A Drought in Portugal When Their Food-plants Are Dead?

How do Small Coppers and Meadow Browns survive a drought?
Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas) Photo in Public Domain/Pixabay

As I walk the burning sandy path through local scrub and woodland here in Portugal I often wonder where do the remaining butterfly females lay their eggs? The once lush vegetation has been shrivelled in the heat of the ongoing drought and what is left is tinder-dry and brown. The Meadow Brown and Small Copper are two butterflies confronted with this problem. Earlier in the year the same location was covered in masses of wildflowers, clumps of Rockrose were in bloom, green grass was plentiful, as were other forms of greenery. There were lots of butterfly species to be seen, including, the Swallowtail, Clouded Yellow, Speckled Wood, Red Admiral, Green Hairstreak, Spanish Festoon, Small White, Bath White, and Small Copper.
Meadow Brown (Maniola jurtina) Photo: Public Domain/Pixabay
Meadow Browns become common in early summer here in the same location. It looks like a paradise for butterflies, and for other forms of wildlife, but as the long days of sun and heat take their toll, all short vegetation dies back to the ground, shrivels up or becomes dead and brown. The butterflies seen flying become less and less as the drought intensifies its hold with no rain at all, or if there are a few scattered showers, the water evaporates as soon as it falls. This year has been particularly bad. Even plants like Echium creticum (Cretan Viper’s Bugloss) failed to bloom successfully and shrivelled in the heat.
Echium creticum in the drought (Photo: Steve Andrews)
One of the only plants that has stood up to the drought conditions is the Rush Skeletonweed, which is an invasive species suited to very arid and semi-desert conditions. On top of this, the local Portuguese authorities have employed teams of workers to clear the land of dry scrub and vegetation in many places. This is a new legal move aimed to be a precaution against wildfires, which have become a new ‘norm’ here.
Land clearance (Photo: Steve Andrews)
In earlier summer I have seen groups of the last of the first emergence of Meadow Browns sheltering under the shade of some old trees here. A few Scabious plants provide nectar and some grass is still alive right under the trees and under bushes. Most other butterflies, such as the Swallowtail and Small White are sustained by the gardens of the town where people water their plants, and some caterpillars can feed on Rue and and plants in the cabbage tribe respectively. But my question remains for the next brood of Meadow Browns and the Small Coppers. As for the Speckled Woods they seem to have vanished. The Meadow Brown female must find grass to lay her eggs on but there is none still green. I wonder, is it possible for the larvae to feed on dried up grass?

The Small Copper I think has an even more difficult, if not impossible task. It has to find any species of Sorrel (Rumex species) or Dock. From what I can tell from my studies in books and online there are no other food-plants. Of course, I do not have as keen a sense of sight and smell as a butterfly, but I am still very able to observe signs of life in any location. As far as I can tell, all Sorrel species have shrivelled away to the ground. I cannot find any. Meanwhile, every time I walk the woodland path here I witness several male Small Coppers in battles and chasing each other. There is an established colony and they don’t seem to mind the heat or intense sunshine. But where can the females find anywhere to lay their eggs? Had I known how bad it was going to get, maybe I could have grown some Sorrel in pots in the garden? If I had taken a pot to the Small Copper territory I am sure the females would have gladly used it for their eggs. There is no Sorrel there as as as I can see. Even flowers of any sort to provide nectar are in very short supply with just a few dried up and struggling Carline Thistles.
A mile or so from this location I was walking down the main road and came upon a single Meadow Brown female fluttering along a dried up and strimmed roadside. She did find a single Scabious in bloom that had missed the strimmer in the land clearance effort but there was no green grass anywhere to be seen. But she had her job to do, she must keep going in search of a few blades of grass on which to lay here eggs. Looking around didn't give a very optimistic outlook for her, and if she was blown or strayed into the traffic she would become another victim of roadkill. Living here in Portugal has shown me graphically one reason that butterfly species are declining: they are unable to find food-plants in good condition because the natural growing seasons have been disrupted and destroyed by the terrible effects of the Climate Crisis. I wonder how many other people here are wondering how the butterflies manage?

Saturday 6 July 2019

Watching the Desertification of Portugal

Climate Breakdown and Desertification

Dried up pond (Photo: Steve Andrews)
I have been living in Portugal since late 2014 and over the years have been watching the changes in the weather and to the countryside. Every year we have had very hot weather and wildfires and droughts are becoming the new ‘normal’ here due to Climate Breakdown. It is getting worse and I feel I am watching the early stages of the desertification of Portugal.

Ponds Dry Up
Cracked mud (Photo: Steve Andrews)

I am sure that amphibians and other aquatic wildlife are having a hard time due to the lack of water. A river near where I live has run dry in the past and this year some roadside pools have already dried up and are just cracked mud. This is very unfortunate news for the small colony of Iberian Water Frogs that were breeding there. Only a month or so back there were thousands of tadpoles in these pools and Water Starwort was an aquatic plant that was growing.
Iberian Water Frog tadpoles (Photo: Steve Andrews)

Sadly the hot, dry weather has evaporated all the water before the tadpoles could complete their metamorphosis and they have all perished. I had moved some to the deeper pools but it was in vain because they dried up too.

French lavender (Photo: Steve Andrews)

The wildflowers here are spectacular in spring with so many species bringing a splash of colour to the countryside. French Lavender, Candytuft, Campanula lusitanica, Silene colorata (a bright pink Catchfly), Common Poppies, Three-leafed Snowflake, Narrow-leafed Lupin, St John’s Wort, Crown Daisy, Asphodel, Toadflax, Tassel Hyacinth, Blue Hound’s Tongue, Scrambling Gromwell, and Sage-leafed Cistus are just some of the colourful plants that beautified my country walks back in April and May. It is hard to think that all these pretty flowers were growing well not long ago on ground which is now brown and tinder dry. Where even the grass has died down and the paths are dust.
Flowers in Spring (Photo: Steve Andrews)

Earlier in the year there were countless butterflies. I would expect to see Swallowtails, Red Admirals, Green Hairstreaks, Spanish Festoons, Clouded Yellows, Speckled Woods, Small Coppers, and Small Whites and would never fail to be disappointed.
Green Hairstreak (Photo: Steve Andrews)

A bit later the Meadow Browns became the most commonly seen butterfly but now there are hardly any about.  There are hardly any flowers left from which they could feed and the vegetation has died back or is conspicuously brown and shrivelled up. In the four years before this year I have never seen it so dry and so dead looking as it is now. I live in Quinta Do Conde, a town between Lisbon and Setubal, so am not in the hot south of the country. If it is like this here I dread to think what it must be like in the Algarve.
Skeleton Weed (Photo: Steve Andrews)

But not all plants are doing badly in the hot and dry conditions. Some are colonising new ground and others are adapting. The Skeleton Weed (Chondrilla juncea) is a species that is happy growing in arid places and I see more and more of the plant on waste ground where I live and even growing in cracks in paving. It is an invasive weed that has become a problem in many parts of the world and after wildfires it will rapidly colonise new ground where other vegetation has been killed.
Black Mustard, or a species of mustard that earlier in the season looks very like Black Mustard, is forming bushy clumps when it goes to seed here. They resemble tumbleweeds and can easily break off helping to distribute the plant.
Mustard clump (Photo: Steve Andrews)

As already mentioned, wildfires are becoming a new ‘norm’ for Portugal and can now occur all year round, due to Climate Breakdown and droughts which can now take place even in the winter. These fires, in addition to destroying farms and houses, are killing animals and people, as well as vast numbers of trees of native species. Pines and Cork Oak can regenerate if not too badly burned but when the trees are weakened and if drought continues they become very susceptible to disease. The Pine Wilt Nematode, spread by various wood-boring beetles is killing pines throughout the country. When the rains finally do arrive another problem the countryside faces is the erosion of the fertile top soil that is washed away.
The Portuguese authorities have implemented legal measures requiring landowners to take action by clearing undergrowth,  brushwood and scrub that could easily burn. Many areas where this has been done will have destroyed wildlife habitat and many dormant and active species sheltering in the vegetation. Efforts to provide safety for farmers and residents of Portugal, are surely taking a toll on the flora and fauna of the country.

Permaculture as the Solution
Desertification of Spain and Portugal

I have known about the predicted desertification of Mediterranean countries including Spain and Portugal before I came to live here. Sadly I am now watching the problem in action. I was searching online for information on desertification in Portugal and found this very detailed and excellent lecture by Doug Crouch, who describes how the system of modern farming is degrading the land further. He also proposes permaculture as the solution. He explains what has been going wrong and what can be done to reverse the ongoing growth of what he calls the “New Sahara.”

Saturday 18 May 2019

Help Butterflies and Moths By Butterfly Gardening and Rearing The Insects

Why we should help butterflies and moths

Small Tortoiseshells on Butterfly Bush (Photo in Public Domain/Pixabay)
Very many butterfly and moth species are suffering very serious declines in numbers due to a combination of pesticides, habitat destruction, modern farming techniques that use herbicides and monoculture, and Climate Change. Moths, which were once commonly seen flying around street lamps, and as casualties on windscreens at night are no longer there. How often do you see moths coming inside where you live at night when a door or window is open? It used to be commonplace for these insects to be attracted by the light.

We can all do our bit in helping these beautiful insects, by growing flowers in our gardens to attract and feed the adults and by cultivating plants their caterpillars need. Butterfly gardening is a great way of doing valuable conservation work. A Buddleia davidii or Butterfly Bush is a wonderful way of attracting butterflies and moths. Leaving Ivy to grow is another help because it is a food-plant for the Holly Blue and the Swallowtail Moth, and its flowers in late autumn provide nectar for the last butterflies and pollinating insects that are still around.

Rearing Moths and Butterflies at Home

Swallowtail (Photo: Steve Andrews)
It is also quite easy to rear many types of butterfly and moth at home. I do this where I live in Portugal and currently have Swallowtail and Monarch butterflies in various stages of metamorphosis, and Death’s Head Hawk Moth caterpillars.
Death's Head Hawk (Photo: Public Domain/Pixabay)
Last year I had four generations of Monarch Butterflies, all reared on Milkweed I grew in the garden here. Swallowtails are fairly common in Portugal. The species here has a caterpillar that will accept many more food-plants than the very rare British variety, which needs Milk Parsley and is only found in the Norfolk Broads. European Swallowtail larvae will eat Rue, Fennel and Carrot. I obtained the Monarchs as young caterpillars from a butterfly farm here, and the hawk moth species I bought as eggs from a company in the UK I can wholeheartedly recommend.
Death's Head Hawk caterpillar (Photo: Public Domain/Pixabay)
Worldwide Butterflies was where I obtained my first stick insects and exotic silk moth species from as a boy, and I am glad to see they are still doing well as a business that provides livestock and valuable information.

Worldwide Butterflies

Worldwide Butterflies stock many rare as well as more common species, as well as providing equipment to help your efforts to rear these insects. They are encouraging the public to buy species they can supply that are no longer common in the UK. The Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly and the Garden Tiger Moth are both in this category. The first of these was once one of our most frequently seen butterflies but this is no longer the case. Yet it is easy to cater for because its caterpillars feed on Stinging Nettles.
Garden Tiger Moth (Photo: Public Domain/Pixabay)
The Garden Tiger is a very large and attractive species with caterpillars nicknamed “Woolly Bears” because of their dense covering of fur. These larvae eat a wide variety of plants, including Dandelions, Nettles, Rhubarb and Cabbage. Why they have disappeared in the UK is still somewhat a mystery.
Worldwide Butterflies also has the beautiful Peacock Butterfly on its current list and the Painted Lady. They even have the Black Veined White, which is extinct in the UK, though surviving in Portugal and parts of Europe. The bright yellow Brimstone is another British butterfly they supply but this species must have either of the two Buckthorn species that grow in Britain for its caterpillars to eat. Worldwide Butterflies can provide various hairstreaks and fritillaries as well, and some of these are rare. The company is offering a wide variety of UK moths, including the Vapourer Moth, the Puss Moth,the Cinnabar Moth, the Emperor Moth, the Blue Underwing Moth, the Eyed Hawk Moth, Lime Hawk Moth and Privet Hawk. Check out their current catalogue. There are many exotic species available too, and whilst these can be very large and colourful, you need to keep them indoors or in greenhouses and must never release them for obvious reasons. This is why, in my opinion, it is much better to stick with butterflies and moths that are native to the country where you live.

Helping species in your area

Helping species of butterfly and moth that are already in your area makes good sense. Take a look around at what insects you see flying where you are and then find out what plants they need for their caterpillars. Growing these plants in your garden will help attract the adult insects and provide somewhere for them to lay their eggs. This is what is happening with Swallowtails here in Portugal. The females of this butterfly lay eggs on rue in the garden. I take the eggs and caterpillars indoors though because wasps eat them if left outside. Female butterflies will return to your garden if they know the plants they need to lay their eggs on are there. This happens where I live with Monarchs and Swallowtails.
A Female Monarch Laying Eggs
If you have Common Blue butterflies where you live, simply allowing clovers and trefoils to grow in your lawn will provide a place for the larvae of these butterflies. A Privet hedge provides food for the caterpillars of several moth species, including the Privet Hawk and the Swallowtail Moth. A Willow or Sallow tree can provide food for Eyed Hawk and Poplar Hawk caterpillars. Currant and Gooseberry bushes are the food of the Magpie Moth caterpillars. They used to be a lot more common than they are today. The popular Nasturtium garden flower provides food for Small and Large White caterpillars, and even these butterflies are not doing as well as they used to.
Rearing butterflies and moths and helping them with our choice of garden plants provides a lot of pleasure, a sense of achievement, and is helping conservation at a time when so many species of wildlife are threatened with extinction.