Monarch butterfly numbers fell by 86% last year alone

Agriculture & Food, Sustainability

Monarch butterflies, whose numbers have already declined an estimated 97 percent since the 1980s, fell 86% last year alone in California.

You can help butterflies by: –

  • Don’t buy GMO food – the leading cause of their decline. (This is mainly for the Americans – there’s not a lot of GMO in use elsewhere.)
  • Don’t use insecticides and pesticides – they kill butterflies and many pollinating insects as well as ladybirds, ground beetles and spiders.
  • Grow native plants.
  • Butterflies like bright colors. Think red, yellow, orange, pink and purple. And make sure the blossoms are flat-topped or have short flowering tubes.
  • They also love puddling, which is basically hanging out in damp sand or mud where they drink a little water and take on minerals.
  • Butterflies like warmth so choose sunny, sheltered spots when planting nectar plants.
  • Choose different plants to attract a wider variety of species. Place the same types of plant together in blocks.
  • Try to provide flowers right through the butterfly season. Spring flowers are vital for butterflies coming out of hibernation and autumn flowers help butterflies build up their reserves for winter.
  • Prolong flowering by deadheading flowers, mulching with organic compost, and watering well to keep the plants healthy. 
  • Don’t buy peat compost. Peat bogs are home to many special animals and plants, including the Large Heath butterfly, which is declining across Europe. There are good alternatives to peat available from garden centres.

Some UK butterfly larval food plants:

You can also download a full list of plants for pollinators from the RHS.

  • Alder buckthorn and purging buckthorn: Brimstone
  • Birdsfoot trefoil: Common Blue
  • Cabbage, other brassicas, nasturtium: Small and Large Cabbage Whites
  • Currants, elm, hop and willows: Comma
  • Docks and sorrels: Small Copper
  • Garlic/hedge mustard and lady’s smock: Orange-tip and Green-veined White
  • Holly and ivy: Holly Blue caterpillars eat holly flowers in late spring and ivy flowers in autumn
  • Mixed grasses grown as a meadow: Speckled Wood, The Wall, Gatekeeper, Meadow Brown, Marbled White, Ringlet, Small Heath, Large Skipper, Small Skipper and Essex Skipper. The habitat requirements of these butterflies vary, particularly regarding the types of grass, the height of the sward and whether it is dry or damp grassland. Generally the grass should be left uncut during the growing season and scythed in the spring, leaving a good basal growth on the tussocks
  • Stinging nettle: Peacock, Red Admiral, Comma and Small Tortoiseshell. Large clumps needs to be grown in a sunny position , small clumps of nettles are unlikely to attract egg laying females. Prevent seeding by cutting down in mid-summer after the first brood of the small tortoiseshell has developed
  • Thistles (welted, creeping and giant thistles (Onopordum spp.)): Painted Lady

From full list of plants for pollinators from the RHS.


Ed Dowding

Ed Dowding

Founder, strategist, writer, gadfly, TED talker, world-record holder, and (foolishly) reality-TV farmer. DOES: Innovation, Product, Advocacy THINKS: Regenerative Systems, Institution design, 300 year horizons

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