Brilliant Butterflies: the story so far

Image by Chris Lawrence

Nature Reserves Assistant Anna Guerin gives an update on the Brilliant Butterflies project.

Brilliant Butterflies was awarded £1 million of funding as a Dream Fund 2019 winner, thanks to the support of Players of People's Postcode Lottery.

As a Nature Reserves Assistant for London Wildlife Trust’s Brilliant Butterflies project, I have been lucky enough to spend much of my time in some of South Croydon and Bromley’s most beautiful, and nature-rich, urban greenspaces.  As part of a team that includes members from our partner organisations, the Natural History Museum and Butterfly Conservation as well as community groups and local volunteers, we have been creating a ‘Living Landscape’ of chalk grassland, alive with butterflies and other wildlife. 

Along with our fantastic volunteers, until recently we have been very busy out and about on the London Wildlife Trust nature reserves included in this project. Working predominantly in chalky soil meadows our team have spent many hours over the winter removing scrubby growth as the chalk grassland plants rely on short turf, free from shrubs and small trees. Luckily for us, we also get help with this task on some of our sites from the Downlands Partnership and their amazing, grazing sheep. The sheep’s constant nibbling helps to combat scrub growth, keep grass short and visitors are always excited to encounter London’s ‘living-lawnmowers’!  This combination of human and livestock intervention allows wildflowers, such as kidney vetch and greater yellow rattle, to thrive and consequently attracts grassland butterflies such as marbled whites and the nationally scarce, small blue.

Brilliant butterflies volunteers carrying a bag of scrub clearance

Now that spring has arrived, the volunteers have been thrilled to get approval from our namesakes; at the beginning of March, we were joined by eight butterflies of three different species fluttering around in one of the meadow areas we have been focusing on – ‘They seem to like what we’ve done!’. Butterfly season officially starts on April 1st and runs until the end of September but in warmer weather, it is not uncommon to see some species flying in March – lots more butterflies to look forward to in the coming months!

Small blue vetch butterfly on flower

Image by Chris Lawrence

In February the volunteers also had the chance to be involved in a week-long hedgelaying project on our West Kent Golf Course reserve – they were justifiably proud of the stunning result!  The traditional practise of laying hedges involves partially cutting through each plant stem (pleaching) and laying them horizontally before providing stability with upright stakes and horizontal binders.  Hedgerows are another incredibly valuable habitat for wildlife and attract a wide range of butterflies.  Unfortunately, they have declined significantly in the UK since the 1940s so restoring even short sections can have huge benefits for biodiversity.
 

Image of hedge fencing at Brilliant Butterflies project

The restoration of these habitats will provide butterflies with places to fly, feed and breed but through our upcoming butterfly bank creations, we will also be providing them with the stepping stones needed to link the landscape, thus allowing populations to increase and spread.  Steve, our project officer for Butterfly Conservation, has been preparing for our first butterfly bank at a New Addington-based charity centre.  He worked with local volunteers on a propagation activity that included planting 200 kidney vetch seeds; the resulting seedlings will be planted directly into the new bank with the hopes that they will flower and attract butterflies such as the small blue, who lay their eggs only on this specific flower. 

Volunteer planting seeds

As well as working with local volunteers within nature, we have also brought nature out into local communities.  Our community engagement officers, Sunitha and Laura, have been leading talks with local groups to let them know about the nature reserves on their doorsteps; the New Addington residents in particular were delighted to discover that Hutchinson’s Bank, with all its fantastic wildlife, is so close to their homes! – ‘I never knew there was a nature reserve just down the road!’.  Craft sessions have also enabled us to share information about the project whilst teaching groups a new, creative skill.  Several classes have taken place to teach participants how to make a butterfly brooch using needle felting; these mindful sessions culminate with a flurry of butterflies leaving the room, proudly pinned to coats and bags – ‘It was so therapeutic and I learnt a lot’.  They have also been inspiring the next generation of nature lovers and conservationists by getting groups of children into the outdoors to enjoy wildlife spotting and bushcraft skills like den building.

Two children hold up their art outside