Wildlife expert Sean McMenemy shares his tips for attracting butterflies for this year’s ‘Big Butterfly Count’

At a time of year when butterflies are most visible in British gardens, serving them ‘butterfly cocktails’ could be one way to boost butterfly numbers, experts say.

Half of all British butterflies are now on the Red List, which means they’re either threatened or ‘near threatened’ with extinction. In just 11 years, there has been a 26% increase in the number of threatened species, driven by factors such as habitat loss, pollution and climate change.

To raise awareness of the issue, the annual Big Butterfly Count enlists the help of the public to chart butterfly numbers and is supported by the likes of Sir David Attenborough, Chris Packham and Alan Titchmarsh.

Providing tips on how people can join in this year, Sean McMenemy – garden wildlife expert and director at Ark Wildlife – gives his top tips for attracting butterflies for the count, including flower choices, food and even speciality cocktails for the butterflies.

Sean says: “With 20 species of butterflies commonly visiting British gardens in summer, the best thing about the Big Butterfly Count is you can do it at home with a cup of tea or cold drink in hand. No need for travel, special equipment or clothes. Pop outside, sit in a comfy chair and simply count.”

How to make a ‘butterfly cocktail’

Sean says: “To bring butterflies a little closer, make a butterfly cocktail. The simplest recipe involves mashing up an over-ripe banana, and mixing in brown sugar and some stale beer. To take this to a professional level, you can experiment by adding dark rum and/or soy sauce. Even better is to leave the whole concoction to ferment for a few weeks or months before use.”

More ways to attract butterflies to your garden:
1. Flowers: plant bright, fragrant and nectar-rich flowers, avoiding the use of pesticides and leaving fallen fruit under trees. Butterflies are particularly attracted to buddleja shrubs (aka the butterfly bush).

2. Butterfly houses: designed to resemble tree bark, butterfly houses give them a haven away from predators. Paint them bright colours to attract residents.

3. Food: put out rotting veg, overripe fruit or special butterfly food.

4. Drinks: make a cocktail or create a simple sugar solution, which is one part sugar and four parts water, brought to the boil.
Butterfly behaviour

While you’re counting butterflies, you’re sure to see some curious behaviour from them. For example, butterflies actually seek out fermented fruit and drinks, resting up once they’ve had their fill.
They drink partly to boost their spermatophores, which are nuptial gifts for females. They like to add nutrient-rich mud to them, or even animal dung.

And in common with most animals, attempts to mate often bring conflict. Butterflies are also highly territorial, so fights between males are common, although their graceful flight patterns look anything but aggressive.

Sean says: “Butterflies have a four-part lifecycle, making them great animals for children learning about nature to observe. From eggs to caterpillars, then pupae to adult butterflies, they fascinate children and adults alike with their amazing life journey.”