Where have all the butterflies gone?

If you're as old as me you might remember that up to the 1960s the countryside of Great Britain, was a patchwork of  meadows  with traditional hedgerows full of wildflowers, growing  along the hedges and in the meadows.

Not anymore!

The butterflies disappeared with the meadows and hedgerows.

Hay meadows and pastureland and hedgerows
Hay meadows and pastureland and hedgerows
Rapeseed and weed killers and great open space
Rapeseed and weed killers and great open space

What happened to our meadows and what's the effect on the butterfly populations?

This is what has happened to our meadows and the effect on the butterfly population.


 Forced by globalisation and low prices paid by supermarkets to our farmers for British farm produce and encouraged by the chemical companies and EU 'Rapeseed' subsidies. Farmers ploughed up the traditional wild flower meadows to reseed them with hybrid rye grasses or arable crops. Removing the most important source of nectar and food butterflies, caterpillars and larvae needed to survive.

Ploughing up unfertilised meadows and the use of herbicide and fertiliser has wiped out wild flowers. The effect on butterfly populations has been disastrous. One estimate is that about 97% of flower-rich meadows have been lost over the past 50 years.


There is some good news for our native wildflowers and the butterflies and other wildlife dependent on the traditional English meadows. More and more of us are growing wild lawns and mini wildflower meadows with traditional hedgerow in our gardens. Also, thanks to growing demand for organic food, farmers are slowly moving back to old farming methods. Breaking away from chemical dependency and the supermarket buyers, by selling their farm produce at farmers shops and markets.

This is helping to balance the loss of flower-rich meadows.


However, transforming your garden lawn into a mini meadow or wild flower lawn will encourage and speed-up the return of our native butterflies.

Growing nectar producing plants will attract Butterflies to your garden.

You won't have to wait long, even in the early life of your mini wildflower meadow, the nectar producing plants will start to attract butterflies. Importantly, growing nectar producing plants in the form of traditional wildflowers, plants and grasses, will also provide the essential food for caterpillars and larvae to complete their life cycle. Producing even more 🦋 


 You can simply let your lawn go wild or to speed up the return of our traditional butterflies you can sow or plant nectar providing wildflowers. Either way it won't be long before you see and enjoy watching butterflies fluttering around your garden again.

The butterflies your garden attracts will depend on the wildflowers you grow. I have listed the commoner butterflies and the wildflowers and grasses they need to survive next.

List of Plants that provide nectar and the butterflies they attract


Attracting butterflies to your garden

Plant the right shrubs and flowers and the butterflies will come. There are many plants that will attract  butterflies, some will attract a particular species some  a selection of species, native British wildflowers are particularly good.

Remember, it's good to have a variety of different plants that flower at different times of the year, ensuring a ready supply of nectar throughout the seasons.

  • In Spring good nectar providing plants are Cuckoo Flower (Ladies Smock), Forget-me-not, Wallflower, Sweet Rocket, Primrose and Daisies.
  • In Summer and Autumn, Budleia, French Marigold, Lavender, Ice Plant, Red Valerian, Michaelmas Daisy, Scabious, Knapweed and Ivy are all good.  


Butterflies feed on nectar, so to encourage butterflies to your garden plant these flowers and shrubs.

Plants to attract butterflies and plants butterflies need to survive.

Butterflies feed on nectar from flowers, but a lot of species will only lay their eggs on one or two very specific plants. If you have these in your garden you can help ensure their future survival.

Common Nettle  will attract Small Tortoiseshell, Red Admiral, Peacock, Painted Lady, Comma

Cock's Foot  is preffered by Wall Brown, Speckled Wood, Small Skipper, Ringlet, Essex Skipper, Large Skipper

Common Rock Rose  attracts  Brown Argus, Green Hairstreak, Northern Brown Argus, Silver Studded Blue

Common Birdsfoot Treoil attracts  Wood White, Silver Studded Blue, Real's Wood White, Green Hairstreak, Dingy Skipper, Common Blue

Common Dog Violet  Dark Green Fritillary, High Brown Fritillary, Pearl Boarded Fritillary, Silver Washed Fritillary, Small Pearl Boarded Fritillary

Fescues, Bents, Meadow grass, Tor-grass are favoured by Meadow Brown, Marbled White, Lulworth Skipper, Greyling, Gatekeeper, Silver Spotted Skipper, Small Heath, Wall Brown.

The most commonly seen butterflies in Britain's gardens.

 Some species of butterfly can only be found in certain areas of the UK. If you'd like to find out what butterflies you could find in your garden have a look at the National Biodiversity Network. 


Meadow Brown is a brown and orange butterfly with black eye spots on the fore-wings. It is very common and widespread throughout the UK and can be found in a variety of habitats including parks and gardens. The caterpillars feed on a wide range of grasses such as fescues and bents and the butterflies can be seen from June to August.

Large White

A large bright white butterfly with black tips on its forewings common throughout the whole of the UK. It also has two black spots on the underside of its wings. The caterpillars feed on  cabbages and brussels-sprouts, so they are not always a welcome garden visitor. The adult butterflies can be seen from May to September. They can be found in a wide range of habitats, but especially in gardens, allotments and fields where they breed.

Holly Blue

A small bright blue butterfly with black spots on the underside of its wings. It is widespread in England and Wales and its range is expanding northwards into Scotland and NI.

The caterpillars feed on holly in spring and ivy in summer and the two generations of adult butterflies can be seen April-May and August-September. It can be found in lots of habitats such as hedgerows, gardens and churchyards, or anywhere where holly and ivy are present.

Red Admiral

A large black winged butterfly with striking red bands and white spots on its wings. They are common and widespread throughout the UK. They are a migratory species, going north, with females laying eggs along the way.

The caterpillars feed on common nettle and the butterflies can be seen from July until as late as October or November. They are found in a wide range of habitats including gardens.


A fairly large butterfly with red and black wings. It has easily recognisable eye spots on both sets of wings. It can be found throughout the UK and its range is still expanding.

The caterpillars eat common nettle although they have also been found on small nettle and hop. The adult butterflies can be seen from July to September and they are common garden visitors.

Where have all the butterflies gone?

Where have all the butterflies gone Mum?
Was it the China Virus mum? No even worse than that son. The wildflower meadows that were their homes, and the wildflower nectar that was their food have all gone.
What can the government do mum? Nothing son, got their hands full.
BUT, wait a moment. Flowerpotman has got a good idea, there is something we can do son! We have got a lot of time on our hands at the moment.  We could  grow our own wild flower meadow in our lawn!


Please Mum, let's do it. The flowerpotman says it is easy to grow a wildflower lawn, even a wildflower meadow to bring our butterflies back.