Jane Doughty and Robert Donnelly, Butterfly Conservation Ireland members living in County Kilkenny, are renowned for the abundance of butterflies in their amazing garden. Robert counted 124 butterflies in his garden in County Kilkenny on just one day, July 22nd, 2018. Silver-washed Fritillaries are seen regularly in their garden, a true Eden for butterflies. Here Jane describes their conservation journey and their efforts to broaden their commitment to conserving butterflies.
Our story at Little Eden, where, in retirement, we tend two acres of garden, is probably far from unique.
Twenty-five years ago, with just half an acre to manage and being time poor with work requirements, we used insecticides and Glyphosate without conscience. Our lawns were applied with selective weedkiller and had fresh stripes when mowed. Exotic and flora plena plants seemed irresistible and filled the borders.
Slowly and as Robbie would say “we copped on” we began noticing certain plants attracted more insects and if our own honeybee colony was to find nectar, then more suitable planting was necessary. Using commercial sprays was out altogether and so the change began.
Amongst other publications, Robbie had read Discovering Irish Butterflies & Their Habitats (for the life of me I can’t remember the author’s name) and we subsequently realised nectar sources for butterflies were not enough as each requires specific larval food plants. If we were to help the butterfly population and all the threatened living creatures local to our landscape, our response had to be broadened.
First non-native plants were replaced with the indigenous. Later, fortunately, we were able to purchase adjoining old pasture. We planted our boundaries with fruit and berry-bearing wild trees and shrubs. Grasses, nettles, thistles, and brambles were welcome (with management) and nothing now fits the description of ‘weed’.
Hiring a digger, Robbie excavated a generous unlined and spring-fed pond in the clay soil, allowing life to develop naturally in time. With hammocks under an old willow, we are now privileged to be entertained by creatures below, on, and above the waterline. Damsels and dragonflies clatter wings and swallows, house martins, and even bats impress with fantastic aerial displays when drinking and feeding.
Last year we offered excess garden produce on the road outside suggesting donations for Butterfly Conservation Ireland. This year we did the same and our young neighbour, aged 7, kindly provided wonderful images of butterflies for our sign. We have been gladdened by people’s generosity and impressed by the enthusiasm of young wildlife photographer, Sam.
As individuals, we can make only a small contribution to improve our environment which is under immense pressure in Ireland, as well as globally, and we thank those who do more.