Our Wild Things columnist Eric Brown rejoices in the joys of spring, tracks down early butterflies bringing colour and delight to our lives while suggesting some simple measures aimed at halting declines and luring them into gardens.

New-born lambs gambol in fields, golden daffodils and bluebells sway in gentle breezes, primroses bloom on grass verges, hedges are filled with recently-arrived migrant birds and we have completed that irritating clock-fiddling marking the start of official summertime.

Wild Things: A victory for conservationists

Nature has shrugged off the ravages of February storms and charged ahead with gusto into a season punctuated with fresh growth and new arrivals. Butterflies can be seen after they endured a mixed start to the year. Six were recorded on the wing on the first day of the year: small white, red admiral, brimstone, comma, peacock and small tortoiseshell.

It’s doubtful whether any of those early flyers survived storms Dudley, Eunice and Franklin between February 16 and 20. But March sunshine tempted more out into gardens, woods and parks.

My first identifiable, on-the-wing butterflies were brimstone and peacock, both seen on March 15 while comma, red admiral and small tortoiseshell rapidly followed, the latter basking in morning sun on the wall of my house.

Wild Things: Nestboxes

These are hard times for butterflies with sightings of all the UK listed species falling last year according to a survey of readers of Gardeners World magazine.

Painted lady sightings were 38.5 per cent down with only 16 per cent of readers seeing one in their gardens last year. Over the last two years sightings of the painted lady have almost halved. One in five readers reported seeing large and small white butterflies compared to one in four in 2019 while peacock sightings fell 15.4 per cent and small tortoiseshell sightings reduced from 48 per cent to 38 per cent.

We can aid struggling butterflies reeling from losses of flower meadows, chalk and limestone grassland and ancient native woodland. Leaving uncultivated garden areas including nettles and cuckoo flower, while planting native shrubs like buckthorn and hawthorn should help. Also leave grass uncut in winter to help caterpillars and then provide butterfly food-plants like buddleia and poppies.

If we act quickly we might just save these delicate species which bring such a kaleidoscope of colour to summers.

Further reading: Britain’s Butterflies by David Newland, Robert Still, Andy Swash and David Tomlinson published by Princeton price £17.99.

Visit Butterfly Conservation website here.