Saturday, 23 February 2013

Buddleia, butterflies and controversy!

Buddleia, buddleja, butterfly bush or summer lilac. Whatever you choose to call it, I'm pretty sure you know what I'm talking about, Buddleia davidii
A hardy shrub that grows just about anywhere including brownfield sites, on the sides of buildings and I've even seen it growing out of a chimney stack in Ipswich town centre. It's branches reach up and arch over, tipped with perfect conicals of small lilac or purple flowers, I've even seen a white variety. They have a beautiful, delicate scent which is more noticeable after a summer rain shower and as one of its names suggest, it attracts butterflies and moths in their droves, to which I can attest as I have one of these bushes in my garden.
Red Admiral Vanessa atalanta on my Buddeliea Buddleia davidii last year.

However, the other day I learnt something through the power of Twitter. I can already hear your chuckles of derision, but please bear with me dear reader. After Butterfly Conservation (which I am a member of) tweeted its 100 top butterfly plants, which placed buddleia firmly at the top. Another respected tweep, professional entomologist and author Richard Jones pointed out that the plant is a non-native invader!!!
I never knew this! Apparently, it's homeland is in China and it was discovered by a Dr Augustine Henry in the 19th century, where it was sent to various nurseries in Europe where it's colonisation began.
DEFRA consider the plant to be detrimental to the biodiversity of sites due to its rapid growth and ability to outgrow native vegetation. Once it was said that you were never more than 10 foot from a rat (latest estimates put that at 164 feet), I would imagine it's safe to say your not more than 200yds from a buddleia bush.
As I said earlier, it does grow everywhere as can be seen the the NBN (National Biodiversity Network) map on the said DEFRA page (OK, it's getting to the point of acronym overload, must stop using them). BC (sorry, Butterfly Conservation ), when asked why they are promoting the use of a non-native, biodiversity detrimental, highly invasive species as its top butterfly attracting plant, replied with this press release which has yet to be officially released (you heard it hear first folks!):

Position statement on Buddleia and its planting in the UK
Buddleia is widely planted in gardens across the UK and is clearly a favoured nectar source for butterflies in gardens. It is always top of the list of most commonly used nectar sources in our Garden Butterfly Survey and lives up to its alternative name of the “Butterfly Bush”. The plants are also highly attractive to moths, bees and other insects.
There are around 100 different species of Buddleia, which were mainly introduced to the UK during the 20th century. The most popular species, Buddleia davidii was introduced at Kew in 1896. Apart from being planted widely in gardens, the plant has become widely naturalised in the countryside and towns where it colonises disturbed ground sites such as railway lines, quarries, roadsides and waste ground.
Concern has been growing in the last decade that the plant is spreading and causing problems by invading important wildlife habitats, notably brownfield sites which are important for invertebrates (Shardlow, 2010). It grows vigorously and can form dense stands that eliminate other plants.
In 2008, Defra and the country agencies for Wales and Scotland published a new strategy to control invasive species and listed Buddleia on their non-native species website www.nonnative Defra has estimated that Buddleia control costs the British economy £961,000 pa, largely because it can germinate in crumbling brickwork and cause damage to old buildings and needs to be cleared from railway lines (Williams, 2010). There is a factsheet on Buddleia on the non-native species website but no risk assessment has been done to date (2012). However, Buddleia is not listed among the wild invasive non-native plants listed on Schedule 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act and is not listed by Plantlife as a plant that should be added (Plantlife website).
Butterfly Conservation’s position
Buddleia provides an important nectar source for adult butterflies, moths and other insects in townscapes and the countryside. This has become increasingly relevant because wildflowers have become so depleted following habitat loss and the general lack of nectar sources in the countryside. also brings enjoyment to many people, both because of its heavy scented and beautiful blooms but also because of the butterflies and other insects it attracts. It therefore plays a role, alongside other non-native garden plants, in helping to maintain or restore the link between people and native UK wildlife such as butterflies. In gardens, Buddleia is often pruned annually thus removing seed-heads and reducing the potential for seeding.
Buddleia is not important as a caterpillar food-plant and cannot replace naturally occurring wildflowers, which are crucial to provide a variety of nectar through the year as well as being food-plants for caterpillars. Buddleia can cause serious problems on some important conservation sites, especially brownfield sites. It needs to be controlled in these and other semi-natural sites to allow natural vegetation to develop. The cost of control can sometime be considerable.
In reaching a position on Buddleia it is important to weigh up the undoubted benefits it brings in garden situations against the possible risks to wildlife habitats. It is also important to recognise that Buddleia is already naturalised and well established across much of the UK.
In view of its value as a nectar source, BC will continue to recommend its planting in gardens alongside other butterfly-friendly non-native plants, but will avoid giving it undue prominence and will give advice on its management and control.
Buddleia seeds do not ripen until dry weather during the following spring. We thus recommend that plants in gardens are dead-headed after flowering or cut back during the winter to prevent seed development and the risk of spreading into adjacent habitat.
Semi-natural habitats
BC will advise against planting of Buddleia in semi-natural habitat re-creation schemes or in positions where it may be unmanaged and pose a risk to nearby wildlife habitats. On sites where Buddleia has become a problem it should be controlled in the same way as other invasive plants (e.g. native and non-native scrub), by cutting and/or spraying. It is a relatively easy plant to control by cutting, so is in a different category to other invasive plants that are very difficult to control (e.g. Cotoneaster and Rhododendron). However, seedlings may continue to become established and cutting/removal may need to be repeated at regular intervals.
Defra et al. (2008). The Invasive Non-Native Species Framework Strategy for Great Britain. Defra, London.
Plantlife (2012) Invasives and the law.
Shardlow, M. (2010). Buddleia and invertebrates. Letter to British Wildlife 21, p 301. Williams,F. et al (2010). The Economic Cost of Invasive Non-Native Species on Great Britain.
Fifth draft October 2012

So there you have it, BC have admitted that yes, it is a non-native species, but it is rich in nectar which helps due to the decline in native food sources. They also say that you should dead head your buddleia as soon as it's finished flowering, and I agree, that if you do this you actually encourage the plant to send up more flower heads providing a longer food source, so a win-win situation on that one.
I've also asked the nice man (Liam) at BC if he could provide a list of native butterfly attracting plants for those of you who want to keep it native. He's promised me he'll get onto it after the weekend and as soon as I get it, I'll post it here for you dear reader.

Now, here's the stranger thing, this plant is everywhere, yet garden centres actually sell this plant and people even buy it!!! And we're not talking pennies here, we're talking several quid, around £7-8 in places for is what basically a weed. Talk about fools and their money being soon parted. People, go out and about and save yourself a few quid if you want to plant a weed in your garden.

Now for something completely different!

Recently saw this posted on the web thing. If you click on the link and scroll down to the 2nd (first one in white) event happening in Dorset, you can see that you can have the chance to meet up:

" 3pm for tea and biscuits before moving of into the woodlands to shoot Pigeons/corvids as they come into roost a great afternoons sport. [sic]"

WHAT THE ...! Since when is blasting an innocent nesting bird to death considered to be great sport??? You don't even get to eat them, it's just barbaric massacring of nature for no reason at all except to stroke some social deviant's altered ego. It's just like America where they shoot Gofers for no reason but to show how manly they are against such a dangerous foe. Sure, London restaurants serve Wood pigeon, but these are killed by a professional marksman with a high powered air rifle in a clean shot to the head so as not to cause any suffering and also, so they don't damage the edible part of the bird with shot. Blasting a pigeon out of the sky with a 12-bore shotgun renders it inedible to anyone, so the only reason for this show of machoism can be only to fuel some limp dick's passion to be Rambo. This is the 21st century and is this the pinnacle of what we can achieve? I hope not.


  1. Suffolk Nature24 February 2013 07:36
    Post moved from 'Toads need your help'.
    Robin24 February 2013 01:40
    I agree that the butterfly bush has its advantages in our landscape, especially because it is so fragmented. These bushes provide rich pollen sources on otherwise pollen poor land-they act as networks, enabling butterflies to move across the landscape. In the UK conservation is geared towards encouraging species diversity (which the butterfly bush restrains) . But if we do not have the available habitat for these different species then how will they survive? I guess we should ask ourselves whether we can afford the luxury of maintaining high species diversity or whether letting the widespread but equally useful species flourish. These are the species that are more likely to survive alongside us.

    Just a thought that came through my mind whilst reading your blog post .... I'm not saying our current practices are wrong but I guess like what your saying in your post, we should think about things from all points of view.

    Out of interest, what species of butterfly fed on the butterfly bush?

  2. Hi robin, thanks for your comments. The species of butterfly as stated was a Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)

  3. "BC will continue to recommend its planting in gardens alongside other butterfly-friendly non-native plants, but will avoid giving it undue prominence"

    Is putting it at the top of the list not giving it undue prominence?

    If you want to understand the damage that this plant can do to endangered species you should read Shardlow, M. (2010). Buddleia and invertebrates. Letter to British Wildlife 21, p 301.

    There are always alternatives, including ones that supply nectar and pollen (Buddleia is not strong on pollen). Why add to the burden on the environment.

  4. Thank you Fred for your comments. I've had a search for the article you mention, but cannot find it. Do you have a link for it?