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Gardening for Butterflies

Dr Ian Bedford, Head of Entomology at the John Innes Centre explains what we can do to make our gardens a better place for these delicate insects

Butterflies are one of the most fascinating insects to see and a welcome visitor to our gardens. However, their numbers are sadly in decline and they need our help. All of us who have a garden or outdoor space holds a piece of the jigsaw that, linked together, can provide a helping hand to improve the environment and habitats for our butterflies.

As both an amateur and professional entomologist, I have been fascinated by butterflies for most of my life. The incredible way that they change from a wriggly caterpillar munching on plants, to an amazingly beautiful and delicate butterfly that sucks nectar from flowers is a true wonder of the natural world. For those of us who care about the health and wellbeing of our home garden and the environment, the sight of butterflies fluttering over flowers will be a welcome sight and they’ll certainly help to enrich our lives. 

Butterflies also provide us with an important indication as to the health of our environment and natural habitats. Many species of British Butterflies are sadly in serious decline, so what might be the causes and how might we be able to help them within our gardens?

Finally, here is something to tell the kids or impress a friend – the scientific way to tell the difference between a butterfly and a moth? A butterfly will always have the following: upright wings when at rest, a clubbed tip to their antennae, colourful wings and they’re always daytime fliers whereas moths can display some of these features but never all of them. And just in case you didn’t know – both butterflies and moths are from the same order of insects that are called Lepidoptera, which means ‘scaled wings’.


Dr Ian Bedford will be explaining how to make your garden butterfly-friendly, as well as your answering question on butterflies and moths on Friday 27th April at Toby’s Garden Festival.

Dr Ian has had a life-long passion for all things creepy crawly, from a young boy collecting butterflies on the South Downs, to becoming head of the Entomology department at the John Innes Centre in Norwich, where he’s worked for the past 40 years. Ian’s research spans a wide range of invertebrate species although he’s focussed studies on the sap-sucking insects that transmit plant diseases. In particular, whiteflies and those that are causing problems to the salad crops we import from southern Europe. Ian also studies invasive species such as the notorious Spanish slug which he first confirmed was present in the UK in 2012. Ian’s always delighted to talk about the plant pests he studies and those that we can find in our gardens, so if you have a question about bugs, come along to the festival’s Plant Pest Clinic for a chat with Ian. You’ll also be able to have a look at an array of bugs under the microscope and learn the best ways to protect your garden plants.

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