It would be something of an understatement to say 'we are experiencing difficult times at the moment'. Sadly the messages we are getting are almost exclusively bleak, and while difficult times bring out the best in many people, they also bring out the worst in others.

We need something to help us navigate these times. We need to find an escape from the problems we face, even if only for a short time. And although it might not be the ideal diversion for everyone, throwing ourselves into a project that gets us outdoors can provide many with the very thing in which to become totally absorbed. Those connections with nature and the health benefits of fresh air and exercise can provide us with the escape we could all do with.

Despite all the problems that humanity is facing at the moment, life in the natural world goes on, and for those of us in the northern hemisphere, it is now Spring. With the coming of Spring, we all get to enjoy the emergence of new life but, as is often the case, there are problems to overcome in the natural world too. Even if our focus has been on the spread of COVID 19, the challenges facing much of the natural world have continued, even if pollution levels have dropped due to global lockdowns.

So here is a suggestion that ticks many boxes. Why not try to 'Grow a Secret Garden for Butterflies' as suggested by The Wildlife Trusts and the RHS? The idea is part of their Wild About Gardens 2020 campaign and has many benefits, not only to wildlife but also to those taking part. The new campaign draws inspiration from a new film adaptation of the Frances Hodgson Burnett classic, The Secret Garden, starring Colin Firth, Julie Walters and Dixie Egerickx which is due for general release in August.

It is well known that butterflies and moths are important pollinators and, along with caterpillars, are vital food for birds like Robins and Blue Tits as well as bats. However, their habitats have faced catastrophic declines with some species, like the small tortoiseshell, having dropped by up to 80% in the last 30 years in some locations.

The Wildlife Trusts and the RHA say that "an ideal butterfly garden has a wide variety of plants throughout the year to support their life cycles – for butterflies and moths emerging from hibernation, egg-laying females, caterpillars and then as adults. Early-flowering species such as dandelions, aubretia and native bluebells are good sources of nectar; these could be followed by buddleia and red valerian and, finally, ivy flowers which are a great late-season asset in the autumn. Many wildflowers and long grasses are also excellent larval food-plants. Whether your garden is large or small – or simply a flowering window-box – it could throw these declining insects a lifeline, especially in urban areas."

So, while we are all confined to home, with time on our hands and the with the clocks giving us additional daylight hours, why not plant a garden with butterflies in mind? Gardening is known to be both relaxing and a helpful diversion away from the stresses of daily life - and we all need that at the moment! The birds that visit your garden will appreciate it, and what could be better and more relaxing than seeing more butteries, moths and birds in your garden during the summer months?

Little is benefitting from the virus that we are currently battling, but one area that might benefit is that of nature. Already we have seen an improvement in air quality and a reduction in Co2 levels, so maybe we can build on these when this crisis is over? In the meantime, let's enjoy the constant in all our lives that is the natural world that surrounds us.

© Phil Pickin