I am part of a group of volunteers at The Hidden Gardens who are working towards gaining Level 1 John Muir Award.
Named after the Scots born naturalist, who is generally considered to be the ‘Father of Modern Conservation’, the John Muir Trust encourages groups and individuals to become involved with the conservation and protection of wildlife areas.
Following Muir’s principles the volunteers will work to meet the Trust’s four challenges of: Discover, Explore, Conserve and Share to obtain their award.
Guided by two staff members the group surveyed the gardens for pollinators with a particular focus on butterflies. Different species were discovered and identified and research was done to gain insight into the habitats and plants needed to support their lifecycle. Many of us were not aware that some species, such as Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell overwinter in hibernation as butterflies! Other species hibernate as caterpillars and pupa.
We went on to explore the gardens to determine what was needed to enhance the environment for our butterfly population. We carried out a survey of all the plants to establish which were beneficial for adult and caterpillar food and also looked for plants that would be vital as hibernation sites as many of the pupa secure themselves to plants over winter. Wild areas in the garden were explored to see if there were places, such as log piles, where adult butterflies could hibernate.
Our present and ongoing task is to conserve and develop the gardens so that they become a haven for butterflies! We have a dedicated meadow area which contains many native species such as nettles, meadow grasses and vetches that can often be seen as weeds but are the vital host plants for the eggs of Painted Lady, Ringlet, Orange-tip and many others. This area is managed to maintain a good diversity of plants by selective ‘weeding out’, plant division and seed collection. We learned that the Cuckoo-Flower is host to Small White, Orange-tip and Green-veined White and are now planning to distribute seedlings into the meadow next Spring. One revelation was that many Red Admiral butterflies migrate to Southern Europe in October! As ivy flowers are a late source of nectar for these and other butterflies we now leave the cutting back of Ivy until late winter.
To allow for successful hibernation we have ring-fenced particular wooded areas to remain undisturbed throughout the winter months.
By undertaking the Award scheme the volunteers are now able to share their knowledge with the garden’s many visitors and encourage them in the nurturing of butterfly- friendly habitats. Plants that we have divided or propagated from collected seed will be on sale in the kiosk together with information about their pollinator friendly attributes.
We hope that this sharing of information will result in a healthy diverse population of butterflies in the area.
Roll on Spring!