CHILDREN watched in wonder as almost 200 butterlies filled the sky when they were released.
Butterfly breeder Ray Sandiford let the insects fly free to raise awareness about the declining species.
The 68-year-old has been researching the life of the Red Admiral, one of the UK’s most distinctive butterflies.
He has a butterfly house in his garden in Breightmet, where he had bred more than 1,000 butterflies this year.
Mr Sandiford took nearly 200 Red Admirals to Walmsley Unitarian Chapel, in Blackburn Road, Egerton, on Sunday, and the children watched the creatures being released.
He said: “Butterflies are becoming more scarce and there are quite a number I have not seen this year.
“I want to raise awareness about butterflies, and how people can encourage them to come to their garden.
“More people are putting concrete in their garden, but if people want butterflies they need to plant flowers. Some species feed on nettles, if people pot them up they can have butterflies coming for quite a few months.
“I don’t think they go into gardens as much as they should do.”
Mr Sandiford, who plans to start doing slide shows and talks about the insects, has been releasing butterflies over the last few weeks.
They will fly over to warmer countries such as France, Spain and Portugal for the winter months and will return next year.
He added: “It is important for the children to learn about the life cycle of butterflies, so I took some pupae to show them.
“They were able to take this home and watch the butterflies hatch, then release them in their own garden.”
Two years ago Mr Sandiford sent samples of butterflies to scientists at Oxford University in a bid to discover why they are disappearing. The theory is the problem is caused by parasitic flies and wasps, which lay eggs on nettles.
The eggs are eaten unwittingly by butterfly caterpillars as they feed on the leaves, and the maggots then hatch and eat the caterpillars from within.