Big Butterfly Count launches: why it's important and how you can take part

Wildlife lovers are being urged to take part in the annual Big Butterfly Count to help assess the state of nature in UK gardens this summer.

14th July 2017
Holly Blue/Credit: Iain H Leach, Butterfly Conservation

With the world's largest survey launching today, butterfly scientists will use the data to assess whether butterflies species can mount a comeback this summer and determine where conservation efforts should be targeted in the future. 

Despite early reports that 2017 has so far been a marginally better year for British butterflies, Sir David Attenborough has warned that butterfly species still face a critical summer after a string of poor years has seen many common species decline in numbers.

Painted Lady_Ian H Leach, Butterfly Conservation.jpg
Painted Lady/Credit: Ian H Leach, Butterfly Conservation

Last year was the fourth worst on record for butterflies, with common species such as the Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock, Meadow Brown and Gatekeeper all experiencing declines in 2016. The warm, dry spring and early summer heatwave experienced over much of the UK has given many species a head start, according to the conservation group.

The Big Butterfly Count is the world’s largest butterfly survey, and the Butterfly Conservation is encouraging people to use their chart to spot and record 18 species of common butterflies and two day-flying moths during the next three weeks. 

Butterfly Conservation President Sir David Attenborough, said: “The next few weeks are a vital period for our butterflies. They need to make the most of this chance to feed and breed. So far the warm weather has given some species like the Meadow Brown, Red Admiral and Ringlet a good start but butterflies really need this to continue.

“Last year, despite a warm summer, butterflies like the Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock, Meadow Brown and Gatekeeper saw their numbers fall as a warm winter and cold spring earlier in the year led to problems that affected their numbers later on.”

Small Tortoiseshell/Credit: Mark Searle, Butterfly Conservation
Small Tortoiseshell/Credit: Mark Searle, Butterfly Conservation

He added: “Worryingly, we are now seeing the fortunes of some of our once common butterflies mirror those of our rarest species and they too are now also suffering significant declines with butterflies declining more rapidly in urban areas than in the countryside.

“In the last decade our butterflies have experienced several poor years and although resilient, they simply cannot sustain repeated losses, especially if the habitats they need in order to rebuild their populations are also under threat.”

This year’s Count also follows new findings that butterflies are declining more rapidly in urban areas than in the countryside.

Green-veined White/Credit: Iain H Leach, Butterfly Conservation
Green-veined White/Credit: Iain H Leach, Butterfly Conservation

As many Big Butterfly Counts take place in gardens, parks and urban green space, this year’s results from these habitats will help inform conservationists on how to make our urban landscapes more butterfly-friendly.

Richard Fox, Butterfly Conservation Head of Recording, said: “With increasing numbers of our common and widespread butterflies in long-term decline, Big Butterfly Count is more important than ever. Simply taking 15 minutes out of your normal day to enjoy the sunshine and count butterflies can help us monitor their populations. It’s a win-win for wildlife.”

How to get involved

Big Butterfly Count chart 2017/Credit: Kerry Staddon
Big Butterfly Count chart 2017

The Big Butterfly Count runs from 14 July to 6 August. Taking part in the Count is easy - find a sunny spot and spend 15 minutes counting the butterflies you see and then submit sightings online at www.bigbutterflycount.org  or via the free Big Butterfly Count app.

Guide to British butterflies: how to identify and the best places to spot

Purple Emperor/ Illustration © Richard Lewington
Purple Emperor/ Illustration © Richard Lewington

Britain has around 60 glorious butterfly species. Here is our expert guide on where to see and how to identify 10 British butterfly species

countryfile.com/countryside/british-butterflies-guide

Main image: Holly Blue/Credit: Iain H Leach, Butterfly Conservation

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