The Butterfly Effect – protecting pollinators for multiple benefits

The Butterfly Effect – protecting pollinators for multiple benefits

7 September 2021

Turin – a proGIreg front-runner city is a true pioneer when it comes to fostering pollinator biodiversity and engaging the local community. 

A fine example of this is Farfalle in ToUr a project that was started in Turin in 2014, as a collaboration between a Local Health Company (LHC), Mental Health Centres and University of Turin (Department of Life Sciences and Systems Biology). The objective of the project is to promote the presence of butterflies in the city of Turin through the creation of a network of green areas which, with proper management and with the presence of suitable plants, encourage pollinator presence. The project involves people with disabilities in all activities, to help address isolation and stigma. Farfalle in ToUr was the first Italian Citizen Science project where the participants were users of mental health day centres. The participants and researchers have collaborated to set up green areas with edible plants and nectar plants, monitored the butterfly species on site and involved locals by distributing pollinator friendly seeds and plants for private gardens and balconies.

Supported by the local associations La Rondine and Il Margine and the University of Turin the participants are provided with a training course, after which they carry out pollinator monitoring and education on the topic; they create and take care of pollinator gardens, observe and record butterfly species, manage a website, breed caterpillars, taking part in public events and educational activities in schools, refugee centres, social housing and shelter facilities for the elderly.

Once proGIreg joined forces with Farfalle in ToUr, the activities have been expanded, remunerated and in particular concentrated in the area of the proGIreg Living Lab in Mirafiori South, with project Orti Generali and Fondazione Mirafiori association joining in. Together with the local associations the Torino municipality,  identified which vulnerable groups in the district had interest in butterfly activities. A local community centre has been utilised as the hub for activities, which are planned together with the Farfalle in ToUr group. A training course to become a butterfly expert for 10 users of the city’s Mental Health Centres, who were keen to participate was held. The course entails an official evaluation and a possibility for a work grant. The activities have entailed:


  • managing a butterfly garden
  • maintaining website and Facebook page of Farfalle in ToUr
  • organisation of butterfly exhibition
  • participation in proGIreg Living Lab events
  • participation – and planning of training interventions in schools, in a refugee centre, in social housing, in a residential centre for the elderly


A notable activity was a school project, which involved educating primary school children from the local district, where during May and June 2021 workshops and caterpillar breeding has been carried out with the children in the surroundings. 

Photo: School project for butterfly monitoring – Credit: City of Turin

During the COVID-19 pandemic most activities were paused, with regular monitoring taking place with fewer members, but the butterfly monitoring group thought of great alternative activities to engage and inform people. A social media contest to identify butterfly species was organised with all the related educational materials were made available (in Italian) online - access them here. With the pandemic lessening its grip in 2021, the on-site and in person activities have been able to be resumed at normal capacity, with an educational event geld for families in summer 2021.

Photo: Social media campaign to identify butterfly species – Credit: City of Turin

So what exactly is pollinator monitoring? In addition to the activities with Farfalle in ToUr, the Turing Living Lab is conducting thorough surveying of pollinators, to help create robust nature-based solutions and ease their replication in other sites to foster pollinator habitats. The monitoring in the living lab involves surveys on flowers, bees- and butterflies, as aligned in the EU Pollinators Initiative. The Pollinator monitoring in the Living Lab takes place in a 19ha green area located along the Sangone river. Currently the park hosts 170 pollinator friendly urban gardens, and a building used for raising chickens and for beekeeping, with an apiary of over 7 beehives.  The monitoring is carried out from April to September, to capture the main flowering period and butterfly and bee activity in Turin. Surveys were conducted in two places with different ecological characteristics. The first is characterised by a transitional environment between the river and open grazed meadow; the second one is conducted between urban gardens, where a “pollinators avenue”  has been implemented. The periodical surveys entail:


  • Butterfly surveys: semi‐quantitative surveys were performed by experts walking along a fixed‐route of 300m along the two places. Butterfly species were identified, and individuals of each species counted. The observations were conducted between 10:00 am and 3:00 pm.
  • Bee surveys: 250 m long linear transects were walked in 50 min. Each transect start point and direction walked were randomly determined. All bees were recorded and six observation sets were made, conducted between 9:00 am and 5:00 pm.
  • Flower surveys: larval food plants of butterflies as well as flower surveys to identify plants visited by bees and/or butterflies for nectar, and pollen and honeydew for bees were carried out in parallel to the bee and butterfly surveys. Plant species were collected and identified.


In order to quantify the biodiversity in a community and the homogeneity of individual distribution between species in the community, the Shannon Diversity Index and Shannon Evenness Index were utilised to assess data. Both indexes used are replicable and standardized, easily applicable to different fauna taxonomic groups; making the data collection cost effective.

The surveys are part of the European Butterfly Monitoring Scheme - and are a unique example coupling butterfly and bee monitoring. The pollinator monitoring in the Living Lab will continue to involve neighbouring areas and will be expanded to include a planned green corridor, connecting to the existing monitoring site. The engagement and dedication of participants has been integral to the success of increasing pollinators in the Living Lab, and citizens will continue to be involved through Farfalle in Tour. 

Keen to learn more about how to attract butterflies and bees? Then explore the proGIreg interview with our pollinator expert in Turin professor Simona Bonelli.


Top photo: Erik Karits via Unsplash

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 innovation action programme under grant agreement no. 776528. The sole responsibility for the content of this website lies with the proGIreg project and in no way reflects the views of the European Union.