Butterflies have symbolised the soul for generations. We can't help but be mesmerised by their magnificent colours and patterns as they dance across the sky like floating flowers. But butterflies and moths are not just nature's works of art - they are powerful indicators of the health of our environment, and three-quarters of British species are currently in decline.
There are things we can do to change that though - and we can all play a part in making it happen. At Baytree Owl and Wildlife Centre, we are passionate about educating and inspiring people of any age to take an interest in wildlife and conservation. We know that part of the secret to giving butterflies a second chance is spreading the word that they need help and inspiring people to get involved. So we've set out on a mission to do just that.
Our ethos has always been about educating our visitors and getting them excited about nature. We used to only have owls and birds of prey here at the centre but, over the past two years, we've been expanding our family to include native wildlife; Red foxes, red squirrels and harvest mice are popular residents at the centre - allowing visitors to get closer to animals that are rarely seen in the wild, whilst learning about the importance of helping them to thrive in their natural environment.
Now we want to help those creatures that people all too often take for granted when they see them resting on a flower.
The butterfly house project
For 20 years, there has been a polytunnel positioned right in the middle of the centre that has been used mainly as an indoor flying arena for our birds of prey. When we made the decision last year to introduce butterflies to the centre, we realised that this would make the perfect place to create a home for our new residents. The polytunnel is not suitable for butterflies right away though; it needs to have UV lighting, heating (for those unpredictable British mornings) and ventilation installed, and of course all the planting to create the right environment. That means we have our work cut out over the winter to get everything ready for our new winged residents!
Our vision is to open our native butterfly house - the first of its kind in Britain - for the spring/summer season starting in 2017. We'll be designing four distinct habitats - a cottage garden, a wildflower meadow, a wooded area and a scrub area of nettles and brambles, to replicate the diverse environments of the British countryside (see artist's impression below). These areas will not only provide food and shelter for the individual species but are also a great aid for the curriculum topic of understanding habitats, combined with the other native species we already have at the centre.
Our conservation & education work
The butterfly house is set to be the next cornerstone of our present commitment to expanding our collection of native British species for the purpose of both education around - and conservation of - these iconic animals.
Nutmeg is the first red squirrel to have joined our centre. She is registered at the Welsh Mountain Zoo, which runs the British Isles Breeding Programme for red squirrels. We're really excited to announce that Nutmeg will soon be joined by some friends here at the centre in the coming months. This means that she will subsequently become an important part of the breeding and reintroduction programme for Scotland and Wales, helping our native squirrel thrive in the wild once more.
Our red foxes were both raised here at the centre and are tame enough to allow our visitors close enough to see the beauty of these special animals.
We are often visited by local schools who bring classes along to learn about predators and native mammals. The foxes are a popular and vital part of this exciting educational experience.
Once we open the butterfly house, we hope to successfully breed species that are local to Lincolnshire to reintroduce them to the wild and increase numbers of declining species.
What we need from you
We have already begun some of the necessary structural repairs needed, with the help of our very dedicated volunteers. But now we need your help so we can complete the next stage of development, including the installation of lighting, heating and landscaping within the butterfly house. None of these are cheap unfortunately! Your contribution will go directly towards ensuring these works are finished to the highest possible standard; the more money we raise, the more additional features - such as ponds and benches - we'll be able to include!
In return for your support, we are offering backers some exclusive rewards to thank you for helping to make our project a reality and helping us to inspire and educate our visitors to help butterflies to thrive in Britain for decades to come. We hope you're as excited as we are to see our dream realised, and we hope to see you soon for the grand unveiling next year!
- Director, Baytree Owl & Wildlife Centre