Big Butterfly Count

Posted: Friday 26 July 2013
by Kate Bradbury

Last year was the worst year on record for UK butterflies, as numbers of nearly all species reached record lows. Butterflies need warm, sunny weather...

Last year was the worst year on record for UK butterflies, as numbers of nearly all species reached record lows. Butterflies need warm, sunny weather to thrive, but we had the wettest summer in more than 100 years, with temperatures and sunshine levels well below average in most parts of the country.

The results of the 2012 Big Butterfly Count reflected the bad weather. Almost three quarters of species counted showed year-on-year declines, and 11 of them decreased by more than a third compared with the previous year. The common blue decreased by 50 per cent, the brimstone was down 53 per cent and numbers of holly blue fell by 42 per cent. The peacock was barely seen at all last year – sightings were down by 89 per cent. Our butterflies desperately needed a good summer.

Miraculously, they're getting it this year. For the first time in four years I’m able to count butterflies in glorious sunshine. I see butterflies everywhere – they’re even visiting my shady garden. The good weather is bringing red admirals, commas and peacocks out in droves.

But at the launch of the 2013 Big Butterfly Count last week, Joanna Lumley reminded us that we must not be complacent. Butterfly numbers remain at an all time low, and they desperately need our help. “I can remember walking as a child through Kent and seeing clouds of butterflies. But not anymore. We’ve taken away everything they can live on,” she said. “We’ve done everything we can to be neat and against nature. We’ve paved over our gardens, cut up our peat bogs, taken away our wildflowers”.

Butterflies don’t just need sunshine, but they need a habitat, including caterpillar foodplants, as well as a source of nectar. “One of the best things you can do for butterflies is to leave a patch of grass to grow long at the end of your garden. Many butterflies breed in long grass and this is the perfect habitat for them”.

Joanna has a patch of long grass in her own garden, and also grows ivy and nettles for caterpillars of the peacock, red admiral, comma and small tortoiseshell. Her favourite nectar plants are buddleja, Michaelmas daisies and dandelions. “Anywhere that can possibly be wild, is wild”, she said. But her garden is beautiful too.

Butterfly Conservation experts desperately need to know how butterflies have fared this year so please take part in the 2013 Big Butterfly Count. All you need to do is spend 15 minutes counting butterflies in your garden or local park, between now and 11 August (you can log sightings until the end of August). To take part, visit the Butterfly Conservation website, or download the free iphone and ipad app to record butterflies while you see them.

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