Big Butterfly Count: 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

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The Big Butterfly Count is the world’s largest butterfly survey. Butterfly scientists will use the data gained over the next three weeks (20 July-12 August) to assess where conservation efforts should be targeted in the future. The data is crucial to butterfly specialists wanting to learn more about the population and habits of various butterflies. 

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After the record-breaking temperatures experienced in the UK, the chances of the public witnessing a wide range of butterflies is significantly higher.

However, as a result of the early summer heatwaves, the butterflies are in danger due to effected plant growth and condition from the droughts.

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Painted Lady ©Ian H Leach, Butterfly Conservation

Butterfly species have suffered a string of poor years, as many common species have declined in numbers, according to Butterfly Conservation president Sir David Attenborough.

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. 

2016 was the fourth worst year on record for butterflies, with common species such as the small tortoiseshell, peacock, meadow brown and gatekeeper all experiencing declines.

Sir David Attenborough launches the Big Butterfly Count, at London Zoo. Wednesday 11 July 2012. UK
Sir David Attenborough ©Kerry Staddon

In the last forty years, the UK has witnessed declines in over three-quarters of its butterflies.

“Many of our once common and widespread species like the large white, small copper and gatekeeper have started to struggle, mirroring the declines of rarer species,” said Sir David Attenborough.

“Butterfly Conservation has also revealed that butterflies are declining faster in our towns and cities than in the countryside.”

Sir David Attenborough has also promoted the importance of butterfly watching for mental health, encouraging the public to take part in The Big Butterfly Count.

“Spending time with nature offers us all precious breathing space away from the stresses and strains of modern life; it enables us to experience joy and wonder, to slow down and to appreciate the wildlife that lives side-by-side with us.”

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Small tortoiseshell ©Mark Searle, Butterfly Conservation

The mental health charity, Mind, is supporting the Butterfly Conservation, as they acknowledge the numerous benefits that nature has on one’s wellbeing.

“At Mind, we have found that being in nature can have a powerful, grounding effect, with research indicating that it can help alleviate mental health problems like depression and anxiety,” said Stephen Buckley, Head of Information at Mind.

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Burnet Moth ©Rachel Scopes

This year, B&Q are sponsoring The Big Butterfly Count. “Though gardens in the UK are changing, every outdoor space, no matter its size, can deliver benefits for wildlife,” said People Director at B&Q, Helena Feltham.

“As part of our ongoing commitment to the nature of gardens, we’ll be encouraging B&Q colleagues and customers alike to get outside, connect with nature and spot as many butterflies as they can during the Big Butterfly Count,”

The launch of this year’s count takes place at Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT), London. “We are very excited to host the annual launch of the butterfly count,” stated Martin Spray CBE, WWT Chief Executive.

“What else signals summer like seeing a butterfly flit past you? By encouraging families to note down their encounters, experts can better monitor and protect different species. As a must-do fun outdoor activity, we’ll be handing out spotter sheets at all our wetland centres across the UK.”

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Green-veined White ©Iain H Leach, Butterfly Conservation
How to get involved

The Big Butterfly Count runs from 20 July to 12 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.

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Guide to 10 British butterflies

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

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Main image: ©ain H Leach, Butterfly Conservation