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UK butterflies

Bellamy backs 'butterfly world' plans

More habitat needs to be created for butterflies to stop the declines in some of the UK's most well-loved insects, conservationists urged today.

Veteran botanist David Bellamy warned that butterflies were the canary in the coal mine for the health of the natural world, but the "good news" was they would return if provided with the right habitat.

Prof Bellamy is backing efforts by butterfly expert Clive Farrell to create a "butterfly world" just off the M25, complete with a tropical butterfly dome and an array of wildflower meadows to attract and support native species.

Mr Farrell said butterflies had been hit by the past two summers of bad weather, but they could bounce back under the right conditions.

Butterflies were good indicators of a healthy countryside, and creating the right habitat was not just important for them, he said.

"If you get it right for butterflies you get it right for virtually all nectar and pollen-eating species, such as bees, which are so important for the food chain."

And he said: "If you can have butterflies and moths in a scarred landscape at the junction of the M1 and M25 it will be a wonderful thing."

The scheme's first phase, Future Gardens, has seen the creation of a series of 12 show gardens outside St Albans, Herts, which aim to highlight sustainable gardening, along with acres of wildflower meadows, to provide habitat for butterflies, bees and bugs.

The meadow areas were stripped of topsoil before they were planted to take off weed seeds such as nettles and allow the wildflower annuals and perennials to thrive.

In one part, shaped like giant butterflies antennae, south and north facing banks have been created to provide varied habitats, while elsewhere the site has been planted with scrub, grasses and butterfly-friendly plants such as buddhlea.

The project's chief landscape designer Ivan Hicks said he hoped people would be able to take home ideas for butterfly friendly gardening to their own back yards.

He said the show gardens were full of "ideas to steal", while the meadows could also teach people about wildflowers and providing insect-friendly habitat.

Prof Bellamy said the wildflower meadows at the Butterfly World project would be able to show the 15.5 million people who could easily travel to the site that it was possible to "put butterflies back into our lives".

"They are there to show people if you can give them the right habitat they will come back on their own."

He said: "When I was a kid in war-torn London I could see butterflies all the time, I could pick a bunch of wildflowers for my mother on her birthday, but most of these things have gone.

"We can't live on this Earth all by ourselves, we need the biodiversity.

"If we lose these things we're in really, really bad trouble. But it's not rocket science to get them back, that's the good news."

He said he even wanted to see glow worms back in St Albans - and in every park in London.

Mr Farrell is hoping to find a major investor to help him complete the £27 million scheme, which will deliver a tropical dome complete with Mayan ruins and 10,000 butterflies.

He said the tropical butterflies in the dome - which aims to be the third biggest in the UK after the Millennium Dome and the would be "messengers from the rainforest".

"Our visitors will become more engaged with where these butterflies come from and how important it is to conserve it."

As for the future of butterflies in the UK, many of which have been in decline in recent years, "the British do love their gardens and flowers and wildlife, so there's always hope there," he said.