FROM cocoon, to caterpillar, to butterfly and now flying free — these youngsters helped release more than 40 winged creatures.

Ray Sandiford, a butterfly enthusiast and retired upholsterer, released more than 40 peacock and small tortoiseshell butterflies at Croft house Nursery in Horwich .

Youngsters at the nursery already spend a lot of time outdoors, especially in the woodland close to the nursery.

Nursery manager Janet Lomax-Baker, said: “We are very keen to promote an interest in the environment and a caring approach towards wildlife. The children have been studying the life-cycle of a butterfly so they were very excited about helping Ray to release his butterflies into the nursery garden.

“The children were thrilled by what they saw. I’d be very pleased if we turned it into an annual event.”

Mr Sandiford, who used to manage the butterfly house at Queens Park, was given caterpillars from friends in Derbyshire, where there are more of the insects.

He is now trying to repopulate the North West with the butterflies.

The 68-year-old, who has been breeding butterflies since 1966, said: “The event was brilliant and I was thrilled to show the children the butterflies.

“They asked me about how long they live for, how high they can fly and about their hibernation patterns, I was very impressed.”

It has been a tough year for butterflies, as they do not fend well in damp and wet weather.

Mr Sandiford is hoping to set up an organisation that will monitor and record the butterfly population across the North West.

If you are interested in butterfly conservation, join the Butterfly Watch North Watch by phoning Ray Sandiford on 01204 398548.