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Big Butterfly Count aims for a million as gardeners told to leave the mowers aloneBy Emily Beament
Leave the mower in the shed and let your garden go wild – that's the message to gardeners wanting to help butterflies and bees.
Sir David Attenborough and the Government are both extolling the virtues of such areas to pollinators, with the famous naturalist hoping the public can reach a million in this year's Big Butterfly Count.
The Government advice, which adds to four other steps – growing more nectar and pollen-rich flowers, shrubs and trees, cutting grass less often, avoid disturbing and destroying nesting or hibernating insects, and think carefully about whether to use pesticides – was issued by Defra ahead of the publication of a nationwide strategy for pollinators which the Government is publishing in the autumn.
It was drawn up with experts from Government conservation agency Natural England, the Food and Environment Research Agency, conservation charities and the research community.
But the Government has come under fire from conservationists for their opposition to a European Union ban on several neonicotinoids, pesticides which have been linked to declines in bees, on crops such as oil seed rape.
Environment Minister Lord de Mauley said: "Pollinators such as bees are vital to the environment and the economy, and I want to make sure that we do all we can to safeguard them. That's why we are encouraging everyone to take a few simple actions and play their part in helping protect our bees and butterflies. We will be publishing a nationwide strategy for pollinators later this year to set out everything that we can do to help pollinators flourish."
Friends of the Earth executive director Andy Atkins said: "The plight of our bees is high on people's environmental concerns, so it's great to see government, businesses and communities launching this call to action to protect these iconic species. The good news is that everyone can be part of the generation that helps save our bees, from creating a 'bee world' wildflower patch in your local area to helping scientists monitor bee health by logging any bees you spot with the free Great British Bee Count app. But the Government must also play its part by strengthening its upcoming National Pollinator Strategy to address all the threats that bees face, especially by supporting farmers to cut pesticide use and halting the continued loss of vital habitat like meadows."
There are at least 1,500 species of insect pollinators in the UK, including 26 species of bumblebee, 260 solitary bees, one honeybee species and hundreds of types of hoverflies, butterflies and moths.
Sir David said butterflies bounced back last year after 2012's terrible summer but numbers were still below average in 2013 and the majority of UK species are in decline. He called for gardeners to make space for nature in their gardens and even in windowboxes, where sowing wild flowers will help butterflies. And he urged people to join the Big Butterfly Count to help conservationists monitor how butterflies are faring – with the good weather raising the possibility that nature-lovers could count a million butterflies for the first time since the scheme launched in 2010.
Last year the small white was the most commonly-seen butterfly in the count, with more than 150,000 spotted across the country. The large white was second, with more than 130,000 sightings. But this year they could be overtaken by the peacock butterfly, whose caterpillars have been seen in large numbers during the spring and early summer, count organisers Butterfly Conservation said.
Sir David, who is president of Butterfly Conservation, said: "The UK is a nation of amateur naturalists and we have a proud tradition of celebrating and studying our wildlife." And he urged gardeners to help butterflies by letting a small patch of garden grow wild. "If you don't have a garden, then try planting wild flowers in a window box. Just these small acts will create much-needed butterfly habitat and help provide a lifeline for the UK's back garden wildlife," he said.
Big Butterfly Count aims for a million as gardeners told to leave the mowers alone | Western Daily Press