Yesterday evening, I had the great pleasure of going to visit my good friends, Clare and Michael Blencowe, and see how their wildlife-friendly garden is getting on.
They live in a village in West Sussex, with a back garden that I estimate is 12m wide by 10m deep, I guess what you might call average (the Blencowes, by the way, are in no way what you could describe as average!). However, it is their front garden I wanted to share because of what it shows can be achieved in an even smaller space.
The basic aim of the front garden is to be a place for breeding butterflies, and for many of our species that means a meadow environment full of wild grasses. The caterpillars of Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper, Wall, Marbled White, skippers, Speckled Wood and Small Heath are all grass-grazers, not your typical lawn Perennial Rye-grass but the grasses you'd once have found in haymeadows across the country.
So here it is, a mini meadow, sown with a wildflower meadow mix just a few years ago and now neatly edged to show that the effect is intentional.
Because we are now a third of the way into July, and also because we've had very little rain in Sussex this summer, the mini-meadow now has that 'high summer' look about it, with yellowing seedheads on all the grasses. In my view, this is one of the joys of a mini-meadow in that it changes its appearance over the season, from the first flush of fresh, low green growth in spring to the point in a month of so's time when there is very little green left and it's time to bring out the scythe or shears. I love that about a mini-meadow, how it helps ring the seasonal changes in the way that a scalped lawn always fails to do.
So what wildlife has moved into the meadow? Well, how about this for starters?
It is a Marbled White butterfly, whose wings are the most incredible monochrome doodle. They have colonised the mini-meadow for the first time this year, showing how the habitat can continue to evolve and develop and prosper over time.
Also in the meadow were plenty of Six-spot Burnet Moths, a day-flyer whose caterpillars breed on the Bird's-foot Trefoil that grows among the grass stems. Look at those for handlebar antennae!
My photograph was taken at about 8pm in shadow, but see these moths in the sunshine and the dark ground colour around the red spots is a gloriously shiny metallic green.
Common Blue butterflies also breed on the Bird's-foot Trefoil, while at the front of the meadow, a Buckthorn is almost defoliated each spring by the caterpillars of Brimstone butterflies.
The Blencowes next ambition is to have Brown Hairstreak butterflies breeding, and so they have planted a mini hedge of the caterpillar foodplant, Blackthorn, along the front of the garden.
It all shows what is possible in a tiny patch of meadow. This tiny space is probably a net exporter of newly-hatched adult butterflies out into all the gardens around it, which is brilliant. However, imagine if even just one in ten gardens had a mini-meadow like this? It would allow wildlife to hopscotch from patch to patch, mixing up the gene pool, creating more resilient and diverse populations.
And, as Michael says, he can't believe how people flog themselves (and their lawns) week after week with the lawnmowing routine when all he does is cut the meadow once a year. Instead, he and Clare gain immeasurable joy from watching the changing of world of wildlife right outside their front door, where there is always something new to see.
There's only one conclusion - bring on the mini-meadow revolution!
We spend 90% of net income on conservation, public education and advocacy
The RSPB is a member of BirdLife International. Find out more about the partnership
© The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is a registered charity: England and Wales no. 207076, Scotland no. SC037654