The Big Butterfly Count helps conservationists identify those species in the most trouble, and is critical for monitoring populations across the UK. Find out how to take part, and what to look for. All you need is 15 minutes, a notepad and a shady spot.

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What is the Big Butterfly count?

The Big Butterfly Count is the world’s largest butterfly survey, undertaken by wildlife lovers across the UK. It lasts for just over two weeks from the end of July to the first week of August, and involves picking a spot and spending 15 minutes counting the butterflies and moths you can see.

The data you help gather is crucial to butterfly specialists wanting to learn more about the population and habits of various butterflies. It will enable butterfly scientists to assess where conservation efforts are most important.

Pearl-bordered Fritillary (Boloria euphrosyne) Bentley Wood, Wiltshire
Getty

When is the Big Butterfly count in 2022?

The Big Butterfly count began on Friday 15 July and ends on Sunday 7 August 2022.

Painted Lady ©Ian H Leach, Butterfly Conservation

How to take part in the Big Butterfly Count 2022

Taking part in the Count is easy.

  1. Get ready by downloading an ID chart, or the free Butterfly Conservation app
  2. Between Friday 15 July and Sunday 7 August, find a sunny spot and spend 15 minutes counting the butterflies you see.
  3. Submit your sightings online at bigbutterflycount.org or via the free Big Butterfly Count app.

You can even see how well butterflies are doing in your area using Butterfly Conservation's new interactive map:

Interactive map of the British Isles showing the data collecting from the Big Butterfly Count

Why is there a Big Butterfly Count?

Butterfly species have suffered a string of poor years, as many common species have declined in numbers. The 2021 count was the worst Big Butterfly Count year on record, with the lowest ever number of butterflies and moths recorded, despite record numbers of entries from the public.

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Dr Zoë Randle, Senior Surveys Officer at Butterfly Conservation said: “[Last] year’s results show that the average number of butterflies and moths per count is the lowest we’ve recorded so far. On average, people counted 9 butterflies or moths per count, which is down from 11 in 2020, and down again from 16 in 2019. More counts are undertaken and submitted year on year, but it seems that there are fewer butterflies and moths around to be counted.”

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.

Sir David Attenborough./Credit: Kerry Staddon

"Butterfly Conservation has also revealed that butterflies are declining faster in our towns and cities than in the countryside,” said Butterfly Conservation president Sir David Attenborough.

Small tortoiseshell ©Mark Searle, Butterfly ConservationThe 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.

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.”

Green-veined White ©Iain H Leach, Butterfly Conservation
Black moth with vivid red spots on its wings on grass seedhead

British butterfly guide: 10 species to spot

Picking the top 10 must-see British butterflies is no easy task as the standard is remarkably high, even though only about 60 species grace our shores annually (including regular migrants). The truth is that our butterflies are remarkably emotive creatures, not least because they are essential elements of spring and summer sunshine.

Duke of Burgundy Hamearis lucina

No one knows how this tiny early spring butterfly obtained its name. Formerly common locally in woods, the duke is now a rare and rapidly declining butterfly, primarily of rough, ungrazed or lightly grazed limestone grassland, where it breeds on cowslip and primrose leaves in shady situations.

Most colonies hold only a handful of butterflies. However, the males gather in sheltered territories, or leks, which are occupied annually. There they squabble like mad and launch themselves against all-comers.

They are most active in the mornings, becoming quiescent after 2pm. The duke flies at cowslip time, late April through to late May, and nowadays is best seen in early to mid May.

Pearl-bordered fritillary Boloria euphrosyne

Pearl-bordered fritillary

Another butterfly in rapid decline, having been widespread and locally common throughout southern and western mainland Britain.

It lives mainly in woodland clearings and on bracken hillsides, but also on rough limestone grassland around Morecambe Bay and along loch sides in the Western Highlands, breeding on violets among fallen leaves or dead bracken litter.

It flies mainly during May, but has early and late years, depending on the vagaries of spring weather. Cannily, it flies when the bugle, its favoured nectar source, is in flower. This is one of our most graceful butterflies in flight, skimming low over the ground vegetation, pausing only to visit flowers or bask, the males ceaselessly searching for females.

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Authors

Tanya Jackson in red checked shirt and rucksack standing by a wall with a big smile
Tanya JacksonDigital editor

Tanya Jackson is a digital editor and writer for countryfile.com. She lives in Wiltshire and loves campfire cooking, swimming in the sea, rural folklore, barn owls and walking her Welsh collie in the misty hills. Tanya also has a passion for English food and drink – although nothing tastes as good as tomato soup out of a thermos on a crisp woodland walk.

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