Butterfly Conservation as Metaphor for Recovery

Posted by Devon Partnership Trust in News, Recovery and wellbeing on 7th January, 2020

Three years ago I spoke at a conference hosted by Exmoor National Park to celebrate the work we had initiated together to promote the mental health benefits our National Parks offer to individuals and our communities. At the end of my talk, Megan Lowe, a community project worker for Butterfly Conservation, approached me. She was intrigued to consider how the Devon Recovery Learning Community might be able to pair up with their efforts to widen their audience around the conservation of butterflies and the preservation of their habitats. People with mental health challenges was not an audience that Butterfly Conservation had ever tried to engage with before.

After some discussion and the sharing of ideas with potential tutors and students, we came up with the title for a series of learning opportunities, funded by the National Lottery, that we would offer in partnership: Butterfly Conservation as Metaphor for Recovery.

The courses we offered focussed on the identification of butterflies and moths, their life cycle, and the work involved in helping to conserve them. Students were given opportunities to learn about the fascinating lives and needs of butterflies, whilst also helping to maintain important Dartmoor habitats for some of the rarest butterflies in the UK.

Based in beautiful locations on Dartmoor students learned traditional woodland management skills including coppicing to ‘link up the light’ in the woods. By clearing small areas that link together to let more sunlight through which butterflies love, participants on the course were able to create new habitats for rare fritillary butterflies whilst extending the life of the trees as well.

But where does ‘recovery’ fit in to this?

Butterflies are often seen as a metaphor for recovery. The courses invited students to reflect upon their own journey of recovery in light of such beautiful and vulnerable creatures, their metamorphosis and transformation from egg to butterfly.

Using metaphors to support out mental health and wellbeing, and in life generally, is quite powerful because they allow us to shift our perspective and unlock old ways of thinking that do not work. They can help us get ‘unstuck’ from old habits of thinking by offering us a refreshing new way to look at the world, ourselves, our challenges and our emotions. 

As well as the metaphor, students were also able to take away with them a real connection with the natural world and how they could make a difference even in very small ways. They also spent time out of doors with other like-minded students searching for opportunities to find meaning, have hope, feel purposeful and productive, and to feel that they made a difference. 


On the last course of the three-year project with Butterfly Conservation the students in attendance were asked to write down a few words that expressed what they felt the impact of that day had on them. 

I feel it is most fitting to end with with a poem from that day which really encapsulates the whole experience of how such innovative partnerships with organisations such as Butterfly Conservation can help protect our environment by helping us connect with nature as a source of meaning, purpose and wellbeing.

- Caroline Nicholson, Manager, Devon Recovery Learning Community.

Find the Best of You 

When you visit Yarner Wood
You create feelings
That are tranquil, calm and good.

Corridors of light show the way
Bringing clarity for a more
peaceful day.

Flora and fauna greet you here, 
Giving precious moments
to hold true and dear.

A woodland stillness cleanses
the soul,
Healing the heart
to make you whole.

So let nature nurture, and
guide you through.
And like the butterfly,
Allow transformation, change
gently find the best in you.

- Karen