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The UK glories in more than 50 different species of this brightly coloured insect.

A painted lady butterfly with orange wings, black markings and white spots, feeds on nectar from a flower.

It's always a great pleasure to see the many different and vibrant butterflies that feed along the edges of our towpaths, but did you know that many species are actually under threat from habitat loss and degradation?

In fact, one in ten species of butterfly face extinction in Europe and over a third have declining populations. Several UK species are now listed in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan.

Improving habitats

To help reverse this trend, we've been working in partnership with Butterfly Conservation and local volunteers to improve habitats for rare butterflies.

For example, at Fenny Compton, on the Oxford Canal, we have planted banks with kidney vetch. This is an important food source for the fantastically named grizzled skipper butterfly, which is attracted to the plant's delicate yellow flowers. The new habitat provides the perfect conditions for the grizzled skipper, helping to boost its numbers.

At Napton Reservoir, again in partnership with Butterfly Conservation and local volunteers, banks and scrapes have been created at the reservoir and planted with kidney vetch and creeping cinquefoil. These are essential food sources for the rare small blue butterfly, which is known to live adjacent to the site. This is one of only three known locations for the species in the West Midlands.

The butterfly life-cycle

Butterflies undergo a fascinating four-stage life-cycle, starting as tiny eggs laid on leaves in which the larva (or caterpillar) forms. Eggs can hatch after a few weeks or remain dormant for a season (usually winter) before emerging. Once hatched, caterpillars vary massively in size, shape and colour depending on species. Some are furry, some spiky, some camouflaged, some smooth. All caterpillars love to eat and will munch their way through a large amount of mostly green leaves to store up energy for their next phase, the chrysalis.

The chrysalis (or pupa) stage of a butterfly's life-cycle sees it transformed from shuffling caterpillar to free-flying butterfly. The caterpillar surrounds itself with a protective case and anchors itself to a plant.

Finally the insects emerge from their cocoon as fully formed butterflies, ready to find a mate and start the process all over again. At this stage some butterflies will travel thousands of miles in order to breed.

Family nature guide 2019

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Identify footprints and read fascinating facts about the creatures who make their homes along our canals and rivers

Last Edited: 17 November 2020

photo of a location on the canals
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