Wing Commanders;Environment

26th June 1998 at 01:00
Create a living, breathing, flying cross-curricular topic in your school grounds with Martin Jewiss.

Many thousands of children visit butterfly farms and nature reserves every year. For some the trip is a fascinating day out, but for others it forms an integral part of a topic about animals, mini-beasts, insects, or rainforests.

Designing and creating a butterfly garden can provide a rich learning experience and help bring the whole school closer together, especially if the children are involved from the start.

English can be incorporated into the project through discussions, writing, and reading - for instance, by keeping an activity diary. The words that describe the butterfly's life-processes are romantic, poetic, strange and scientific: caterpillar, larva, pupa, chrysalis. A study of butterfly symmetry combines maths and art.

An assessment and survey of the school grounds to choose the best location will involve geography and science. Maths, design technology, and information technology can be used when measuring the site, designing it on paper and on computer, budgeting, and marking it out on the ground.

As for science, the life-cycle of the butterflies - and their place in the food chain - can make for extremely vivid learning opportunities.

The planting and construction of your school's garden is a chance to involve parents, governors, the community and local businesses in getting the manpower and materials that you may need for your project.

When it has been completed, the garden becomes a resource for science, art, English, and geography. You could use it for navigation and map-making or to count numbers and types of butterflies. You could even record the results on a database and use them in maths lessons, and consider the reasons for any growth - or fall - in butterfly numbers as part of science or environmental studies.

But many teachers and pupils also like to actively help our winged friends survive and thrive, by rearing caterpillars in the classroom or creating a butterfly garden - activities that can bring lessons to life in more ways than one.


Even if space is at a premium, try planting a few nectar bearing shrubs and plants in existing flower beds. Many butterfly species are able to migrate over long distances and butterfly gardens in inner-city schools can be just as successful as those in rural areas.

Try to choose a location with plenty of sunshine and warm temperatures. Butter-flies and the plants they live on prefer these conditions. Existing hedges, walls or buildings bordering the site can provide useful shelter.

Use plants that produce single rather than double flowers - it is easier for butterflies to extract the nectar from single flowers. Many British species prefer purple, yellow, orange or red flowers. Clusters of short, tubular flowers or flat-topped blossoms provide the ideal shapes for butterflies to land on and feed from.

Butterflies are active from early spring until late autumn. A selection of early, middle, and late-flowering plants will provide nectar sources as the year progresses.

Caterpillars are usually selective feeders, eating only one or two species of plant. Female butterflies lay eggs on or near the plants that their caterpillars prefer to eat. If these plants are included in the garden design, female butterflies will be lured into the garden to lay eggs.

Butterflies are initially attracted to flowers by their colours. Large splashes of one colour, produced by groupings of the same plant rather than individuals, are easier for butterflies to locate.

A border hedge provides shelter for the site, nectar for adult butterflies, and food for caterpillars - holly, privet, and buckthorn are best.

An area of tall grasses and wildflowers can attract meadowland butterfly species.

Butterflies will perch on large, flat stones, paving slabs, bare soil, or fences to bask in the sun. This raises their body temperature and enables them to remain active.


The on-going care required by a butterfly garden is minimal, but you should consult with your ground staff or caretakers, who may have have valuable knowledge about plants.

Buddleias can be dead-headed and, if the flower-heads are removed once they have died, the plant will produce new ones and nectar will be available for a longer period.Grassland and flower meadows should be mown in the autumn. Only a high cut is required but, without it, some important plant species will be crowded out.

Avoid using pesticides or insecticides in and around the garden - most kill butterflies and caterpillars.

Martin Jewiss is education officer at the Stratford-upon-Avon Butterfly Farm, Swan's Nest Lane, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire CV37 7LS. For school visits, or to buy butterfly eggs, call 01789 299288

More butterfly days outEdinburgh Butterfly and Insect World, Lasswade, Midlothian. Call 0131-663 4932 Pili Palas, Fford Penmynydd, Porthaethwy, Ynys Mon, Anglesey. Call 01248 712474

Butterfly and Falconry Farm, Little London, Long Sutton, Spalding, Lincolnshire. Call 01406 363833


Agrimony (Agrimonia eupatoria) Summer

Apple mint (Mentha suaveolens) Summer

Buddleia (Buddleia alternfolia, B.davidii nanhoensis, B. fallowiana) Summer, Autumn

Buddleia (Buddleia globosa) Spring

Bugle (Ajuga reptans) Spring

Caucasian scabious (Scabiosa caucasica) Summer

Chinese aster (Callistephus chinensis) Autumn

Clara curtis (Chrysanthenum rubellum) Autumn

Devil's-bit scabious (Succisa pratensis) Summer

False valerian (Centhranthus ruber) Spring

Golden rod (Solidago canadiensis) Summer

Hemp agrimony (Eupatorium cannabinum) Summer

Hyssop (Hyssopus officianalis) Summer

Ivy (Hedera helix) Autumn

Larger wild thyme (Thymus pullegioides) Summer

Lavender (Lavandula sp.) Summer

Marjoram (Origanum majorana) Summer

Mexican hyssop (Agastache mexicana) Summer

Michaelmas daisy (Aster novi-belgii) Autumn

Mountain mint (Pycnanthemum pilosum) Summer

Purple joe-pye-weed (Eupatorium purpureum) Summer

Sedum (Sedum spectabile) Autumn

Small scabious (Scabiosa columbaria) Summer

Sweet rocket (Hesperis matronalis) Summer

Sweet william (Dianthus barbutus) Spring

Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) Summer

True valerian (Valeriana officianalis) Spring

Vervain (Verbena officianalis) Summer

Viper's bugloss (Echium vulgare) Summer


Alder buckthorn (Frangula alnus) Brimstone

Bird's-foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) Common blue, small skipper

Cabbage family (Brassica species (sp.)) Large and small white, large skipper

Cocksfoot (Dactylis glomerata) Small copper

Docks (Rumex sp.) Gatekeeper, meadow brown

False broom grasses (Festuca subspecies (spp.), Poa spp., Agrostis spp.)

Holly blue

Holly (Ilex aquifolium) Green veined white, orange tip

Honesty (Lunaria annua) Holly blue

Ivy (Hedera helix) Green veined white, orange tip

Lady's smock (Cardamines pratensis) Small tortoise shell, red admiral

Nettles (Urtica sp.) Peacock

Sorrel (Rumex acetosa) Small copper

Thistles (Carduus sp., Cirsium sp.) Painted lady

Wild hops (Humulus lupulus) Comma

Yorkshire fog (Holcus lanatus) Brimstone

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