Butterflies are beautiful creatures. Whether they’re brightly coloured or plain, it’s always a pleasure to watch them flit between flowers or bask in the summer sun, their delicate wings alight. But the UK’s butterflies are in need of heroes. With many of their habitats paved over or turned into agricultural land, the past forty years have seen a steady decline in many species found across the UK. Fortunately, they’ve found heroes in Jim and Joel Ashton: the Butterfly Brothers. Recently named Butterfly Conservation Ambassadors, they’ve been working hard to promote the importance of nature conservation, even helping to reintroduce a butterfly species that has been extinct in England for the past four decades.
We’re on a mission to help bring back Britain’s wildlife, one pond, meadow or garden at a time!
The Butterfly Brothers, Jim and Joel Ashton
The last few years have not been good ones for the UK’s butterfly populations. The UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme (UKBMS) report of 2016 placed it as the fourth worst year on record, with 40 of the 57 species assessed declining in numbers. It was hoped that 2017 would show a revival. Unfortunately, a chilly spell in Spring followed by a gloomy summer meant that the increase of many populations was only very slight. Whilst Red Admiral, Comma, Brimstone, Silverwashed Fritillary and Dark Green Fritillary were all more widespread, and the Common Blue showed the biggest increase in occurrence, both the Grayling and the Grizzled Skipper actually suffered their worst year since records began. Even some of the UK’s most common butterflies, such as the Large White, showed a decline in numbers. This is actually part of a long-term decline.
Butterfly populations are affected largely by weather. They require warm, dry days during their flight period in order to feed and mate. According to Dr Marc Botham, of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), numbers can and do bounce back providing there are suitable habitats available. This means that the long term trends of decline are more of an issue than simply the yearly variances. Over the past 40 years, 76% of the UK’s resident and regular migrant butterfly species have declined. Whilst factors such as climate change may partly be to blame for this, habitat specialists consider the prime cause to be the destruction and deterioration of habitats due to land-use changes, such as the intensification of agriculture and changing woodland management. There have been a few glimmers of hope in recent years, however. Due to landscape-scale conservation projects, the long-term declines of some threatened species, such as the Duke of Burgundy, Pearl-bordered Fritillary and Dingy Skipper, have been halted and small recoveries seen in some areas.
This is why the work being done by the Butterfly Brothers is so important. Jim and Joel Ashton are dedicated to improving the habitats available in the UK, for butterflies in particular, but also for the rest of the country’s wildlife.
Through their business, Hazelwood Landscapes, they design, create and manage a wide range of wildlife friendly habitats. These range from wildflower meadows and wildlife ponds, to nest boxes and log piles. The landscaping projects they take on focus on garden designs and planting schemes that compliment wildlife gardens. This might include a patio beside a wildflower lawn, or a pergola for native climbers. They are “working with nature, for nature”, creating landscapes that are inviting to wildlife, and, most importantly, to their beloved butterflies. Their wildlife gardens are so inspiring they’ve even won awards, taking both ‘Best stand commercial’ and ‘Best in show’ for their display garden at the 2017 UK Birdfair.
The Butterfly Brothers not only create wildlife friendly gardens themselves, they also help others to gain the skills necessary to do the same. The main way in which they do this is through workshops, held around the UK, in which they pass on their knowledge and expertise. These run regularly throughout the year and cover a wide range of topics. They’ve taught people how to make wildlife ponds, wildflower meadows and flowering lawns, plus nectar borders for butterflies, bees and moths. They’ve also run workshops on encouraging birds and bats into gardens, and on recycling garden waste into homes for wildlife.
In addition to their workshops, they also inspire others to do their part for wildlife through their various social media platforms. Their YouTube channel, as well as containing lots of videos of butterflies, showcases projects from around the UK that they’ve worked on. These include a wildlife garden in North Cambridgeshire and a North Yorkshire Wildflower meadow, plus many more. They also share videos that show ways in which we can encourage wildlife to thrive in our own gardens, such as by planting buddleias and managing standing deadwood. In this video they demonstrate the creation of an urban wildlife garden in Chelmsford, Essex.
They are also active on Twitter, where they highlight issues relating to wildlife in the UK, and share those things that we can do in our own gardens to make a difference.
The brothers are such an inspiration that in May 2018 they were named as Ambassadors for Butterflies by Butterfly Conservation. They’ll now be working with the charity to create a better future for butterflies, moths, and all of the wildlife to be found across the UK. As part of this work they were invited to attend the reintroduction of the Chequered Skipper, a species of butterfly that has been extinct in England since 1976. This project was organised by Butterfly Conservation, and was made possible by Back from the Brink, whose work restoring the habitat within Rockingham Forest in Northamptonshire has provided a place where the species will hopefully thrive. Fifty butterflies, ten male and forty female, were chosen from up to five sites in Belgium where the habitat is similar to that in Rockingham Forest. They were released in a secret location in the forest on May 24th.
Amazing to see the #ChequeredSkipper back in England for the first time in over 40 years today. What a historic moment! So humbled to be part of it. Thank you so much to @ChrisGPackham and @NatureBftB and all involved for all your hard work. Great to meet the @BBCSpringwatch team pic.twitter.com/ImiNT1PAQb
— Butterfly Brothers (@Butterfly_bros) May 24, 2018
With people like the Butterfly Brothers working to improve habitats, and inspiring others to do the same, the glimmers of hope for the future of the UK’s butterflies are growing brighter. The importance of conserving and improving habitats in order to help out our wildlife is steadily becoming increasingly well known. We can all follow the examples of Jim and Joel Ashton, and make the world a place where all creatures can thrive.