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Monarchs butterflies at risk

JOE DAWSON
Last updated 05:00 06/03/2013

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An obsession with neat and orderly gardens could be having a detrimental effect on the wider environment, a monarch butterfly expert says.

Jacqui Knight is a self-described "butterfly lady" and member of the Monarch Butterfly New Zealand Trust.

Ms Knight and other butterfly fans have noticed a sharp decline in the number of monarchs and other species this summer.

"I love butterflies because they're uplifting but I'm also concerned about other life.

"It's just that butterflies are the most visible sign of what's happening in the environment," the Blockhouse Bay resident says.

"I'm also seeing much fewer bees in the garden."

Not that you could tell there is a problem if you visit Ms Knight's home.

Her place is alive with caterpillars and butterflies because her garden is planned with biodiversity in mind, rather than low-maintenance spaces characterised by straight edges and perfect lawns.

She is urging others to learn more about the contribution their backyards could make to the environment as habitats for creatures like bees and butterflies.

Ms Knight says people with a pest or weed problem too often use poison to get rid of them as a first response.

That is an effective option but it can also be a destructive one.

"Some people go and get chemicals and then think they might as well do everything and inadvertently kill other things that are doing all sorts of things in the garden.

"People are using sprays to make things tidy, and nature was never tidy.

"And many have gone away from flower gardens and have rock gardens," she says.

Plants that play host to butterflies, like the swan plant for monarchs or stinging nettles for the red admiral, can also be taken out by over-eager spraying.

Ms Knight says monarch butterflies are close to the hearts of most Kiwis.

She fears the continued destruction of plants that sustain garden life could make the monarch fade from awareness.

"The monarch is iconic to New Zealand. It's quite different to most others in the world," she says.

"It's not afraid, it's big and bright and it can do the whole metamorphosis from eggs to butterfly in the garden so it's wonderful for children."

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