Overall, participants of the Big Butterfly Count enjoyed seeing more butterflies this year than in the previous four summers. In total, over 1.5 million butterflies and day-flying moths were recorded from 14 July - 6 August. After an all-time low in 2022 of just nine individual butterflies spotted per Count, this year saw an increase to 12 butterflies recorded on average per Count.
However, this good news is in contrast with what the long-term trends are revealing. Released for the first time this year, these show that since the Big Butterfly Count started 13 years ago, many species have significantly decreased.
It is a further warning sign that nature everywhere is in crisis – butterflies, as well as forming a vital part of the food chain, are considered significant indicators of the health of the environment.
Following last summer’s heatwave and drought, scientists at Butterfly Conservation called on the public to help them understand the effect the extreme weather had on the UK’s butterflies. People responded in their thousands, with almost 95,000 citizen scientists taking part in this year’s Big Butterfly Count, conducting 136,719 15-minute Counts in gardens, parks, school grounds and the countryside.
Dr Zoe Randle, Senior Surveys Officer at Butterfly Conservation, said: “It’s wonderful that so many people have been out enjoying spotting butterflies. We had huge support for Big Butterfly Count this year, and thanks to the many people who went out during those sunny intervals, we now know that the effects of last year’s drought were not as bad for butterflies as we had feared.
“The mixed weather this year has helped as there has been an abundance of green food plants available for caterpillars, and plenty of nectar-rich flowers for adult butterflies. However, while the number of butterflies recorded this summer has been the highest since 2019, the longer-term trends show worrying declines for some of the UK’s most common butterfly species.”
The most-seen species this year was the Red Admiral, with 248,077 recorded - an increase of 338% on last year’s Count and the first time the species, which is increasing in the UK as a result of climate change, has taken the top-spot.
Gatekeeper was next, with 222,896 sightings. This represents a 12% increase on last year and is a small, but welcome, boost for a species that has decreased by 28% since the Count began.
The Whites took the third and fourth spot, with 216,666 sightings of Large Whites and 190,506 of Small Whites, an 11% and 15% increase on 2022 respectively. Holly Blue had another good summer, with numbers up 66% on 2022, in keeping with its longer-term Big Butterfly Count trend of a 41% increase.
Although its numbers hardly changed compared to summer 2022, Green-veined White has the most severe Big Butterfly Count trend in the longer term, a decrease of 61%.
Dr Richard Fox, Head of Science at Butterfly Conservation, explained: “One of the biggest threats butterflies in the UK face is habitat loss. While the weather certainly has an impact on numbers from year to year, butterflies, moths and many other species can generally cope with variable weather. What they can’t cope with is habitat destruction.
“Butterflies need a place to live. If they can feed, breed and shelter, they can thrive. By creating a Wild Space in your outdoor area you can help to reverse the massive losses of wildlife-friendly habitat and start to turn around the fortunes of our declining butterflies."
Help us take nature's pulse by joining the Big Butterfly Count.
The Big Butterfly Count is a UK-wide survey aimed at helping us assess the health of our environment simply by counting the amount and type of butterflies (and some day-flying moths) we see.
Why count butterflies?
We count butterflies because not only are they beautiful creatures to be around but they are also extremely important. They are vital parts of the ecosystem as both pollinators and components of the food chain. However, they are under threat. Numbers of butterflies and moths in the UK have decreased significantly since the 1970s. This is a warning that cannot be ignored.
Butterfly declines are also an early warning for other wildlife losses. Butterflies are key biodiversity indicators for scientists as they react very quickly to changes in their environment. Therefore, if their numbers are falling, then nature is in trouble. So tracking numbers of butterflies is crucial in the fight to conserve our natural world. That's why taking part in this massive citizen science enterprise is of great importance not just for our butterflies but for the wider environment and biodiversity in general.
So, thank you for taking the time to help!
Counting butterflies can be described as taking the pulse of nature and we depend on you, our citizen scientists, to help us assess how much help nature needs. The data from this and other counts will also help us to identify important trends in species that will assist us in planning how to protect butterflies from extinction, as well as understanding the effect of climate change on wildlife.
How to take part
Simply count butterflies for 15 minutes during bright (preferably sunny) weather during the Big Butterfly Count. We have chosen this time of year because most butterflies are at the adult stage of their lifecycle, so more likely to be seen. Records are welcome from anywhere: from parks, school grounds and gardens, to fields and forests.
If you are counting from a fixed position in your garden, count the maximum number of each species that you can see at a single time. For example, if you see three Red Admirals together on a buddleia bush then record it as 3, but if you only see one at a time then record it as 1 (even if you saw one on several occasions) - this is so that you don't count the same butterfly more than once.
If you are doing your count on a walk, then simply total up the number of each butterfly species that you see during the 15 minutes.
We have provided a list of target butterfly and day-flying moth species in your area we'd like you to count. By restricting the list we minimise counting error and therefore have a clearer view of actual butterfly numbers across the country.
If you have spotted species which are not on our target species list here is a handy way you can record them too using the iRecord Butterflies App.
Also please remember that if you don't see any butterflies then let us know that too. It is very important that we know if there are areas where butterflies are not being seen - this may indicate a wider problem.
Download our handy identification chart to help you work out which butterflies you have seen.
You can do as many counts as you want to: You can submit separate records for different dates at the same place, and for different places that you visit. And your count is useful even if you do not see any butterflies or moths.
Unfortunately, we cannot accept any counts sent in on paper or by email, text or phone.
You will be able to submit records throughout July and August.
Sir David Attenborough, President of Butterfly Conservation
Chris Packham and Nick Baker, Vice Presidents of Butterfly Conservation
Joanna Lumley OBE
Alan Titchmarsh MBE
have all given their enthusiastic backing to the project.
Who is running the survey?
The survey is run by the charity Butterfly Conservation.
Icons across the site originally from flaticon.com and made by:
7 October 2022
Results of this year’s Big Butterfly Count revealed
Gatekeeper takes top spot
Good news for the blues, with increases for Common Blue and Holly Blue
Garden favourite the Comma making a comeback
The general decline continues though, with fewer butterflies spotted overall
Butterfly Conservation has released data on the number of butterflies and some day-flying moths recorded across this UK during this year’s Big Butterfly Count, which ran from 15th July – 7th August.
The Gatekeeper, a species often found along hedgerows and woodland rides, as well as in gardens, in the southern half of Britain, was the most spotted butterfly during this year’s Big Butterfly Count. This is welcome news, as the Gatekeeper experienced its second worst Big Butterfly Count result in summer 2021, and it’s the first time since 2017 that this species has had the top spot overall.
It was good news for the blues as well – with both the Common Blue and the Holly Blue species faring well in the 2022 Big Butterfly Count. Having had their worst results in 2021, these species bounced back, with the numbers reported increasing by 154% for the Common Blue and 120% for the Holly Blue.
Another winner for the 2022 Count was the Comma, a popular species often found in gardens, that saw an increase of 95% compared with last year. The Comma has been making a slow comeback from its low point in the 1910s and expanding its range rapidly northwards.
An increase in range – a result of climate change – accounts for many of the sightings of these species in the north of the UK. The Holly Blue butterfly, for example, had only occasionally been recorded in Scotland prior to the 2000s, but after becoming firmly established in Edinburgh from 2006 and in Ayr from 2008 the species has subsequently spread across swathes of Scotland.
Overall, the trend for butterflies across the UK remains a declining one, with the results of the Big Butterfly Count 2022 showing an average of just under 9 butterflies seen per Count, which is once again an all-time low in the thirteen years since the citizen science project began.
Species that saw a worrying decline from last year include some well-known favourites, such as Red Admiral, Small White and Meadow Brown.
Head of Science for Butterfly Conservation, Dr Richard Fox, said: “We might have expected this summer to have been a much better one for butterflies given the good weather we experienced in many parts of the UK. The fact that more butterflies weren’t seen is concerning and it’s clear that much more needs to be done to protect and restore habitats to aid nature recovery. The sun could shine for days on end, but we still won’t see more butterflies unless there is habitat for them to thrive in.”
Almost 100,000 Butterfly Counts were carried out during the event, with participants spending a combined total of over two and a half years counting butterflies in their gardens, local parks and in the countryside.
Dr Zoe Randle, Senior Surveys Officer at Butterfly Conservation, said: “The vast majority of Big Butterfly Counts are done in gardens, which makes this data especially valuable because this type of habitat is under-represented in many of our other schemes.
“We can create habitat for butterflies such as the Holly Blue and Comma in our gardens, by cultivating Holly and flowering Ivy for the former and growing Hop, elms and nettles for the latter. Gardens that are wildlife friendly can provide vital habitat for these insects, allowing them space to feed, breed and shelter.”
The Big Butterfly Count is the largest citizen-science project of its kind and relies on volunteers spending 15 minutes outside each summer, counting the number and type of butterflies they see. Taking part each year helps scientists to gather important data on how butterflies and moths are coping with changing climate, changing weather, and habitat loss. Next year’s Big Butterfly Count will take place from Friday 14th July – Sunday 6th August 2023.
This year, the Big Butterfly Count was sponsored by garden wildlife specialist Vivara and the DFN Foundation, a commissioning charity focused on influencing sustainable change in special needs education, supported employment, healthcare and conservation.
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Big Butterfly counts winner in 2022 The Gatekeeper
Big Butterfly Count 2021 Wildlife Charity says we must act now if we are to save the UK's Butterflies and Moths
Wildlife charity warns that we must act now if we are to save the UK’s butterflies and moths for future generations.
Butterfly Conservation has today released data on the number of butterflies and day-flying moths counted across the UK in this year’s Big Butterfly Count, which ran from 16th July – 8th August.
Worryingly, the decline in the number of butterflies and moths across the UK is continuing, with the overall number of butterflies recorded per count at its lowest level since the Big Butterfly Count began 12 years ago.
The nation’s love of butterflies isn’t diminishing. Despite the low butterfly numbers, and relatively poor weather, more butterfly counts were submitted than ever before. Over 150,000 counts were registered, representing more than 38,000 hours of butterfly counting in gardens, parks and the countryside.
Dr Zoë Randle, Senior Surveys Officer at Butterfly Conservation said: “This 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 nine 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.”
Some of the UK’s most-loved species including the Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock butterflies dropped in numbers this summer. The iconic Peacock butterfly suffered its lowest numbers since 2012. The Small Tortoiseshell, once a frequent visitor to gardens in the UK, had its third worst summer in the history of the Big Butterfly Count and shows a significant long-term decline in Britain.
It wasn’t bad news for all species, with some, including the Marbled White and Ringlet, appearing to bounce back from their low numbers during last year’s Big Butterfly Count. However, scientists at Butterfly Conservation warn that last year’s unusually sunny spring allowed them to emerge earlier, and that 2021’s results are therefore more typical for these species.
This year’s weather has had a significant impact on butterfly and moth species, and with more climate change related extreme weather events likely, the impact on some of the UK’s most loved insects could be devastating.
Dr Randle explains: “Some of the UK’s butterflies have more than one generation per year, meaning we would see adult butterflies in spring and summer. The majority of these double-brooded species experienced their worst year since the start of the Big Butterfly Count in 2010. Weather changes are likely to be the cause of this. March 2021 was warmer than average which would have stimulated butterfly activity. However, May was very wet which will have hampered butterfly feeding and breeding. These combined weather effects are likely to have reduced the spring generation which has knock-on effects for the second generation in the summer.”
Butterflies and moths are important indicators of the health of the environment, and a decline in abundance is a serious cause for concern.
Butterfly Conservation has launched an ambitious strategy to help address the problems for butterflies and moths and be part of nature’s recovery.
Julie Williams, CEO of Butterfly Conservation, says: “The facts are clear. Nature is in crisis and we need urgent action, not just to prevent further species losses but to rebuild biodiversity.
“Since 1976, 76% of butterflies have declined in abundance or distribution, and the downward trend continues. We have come to accept that encounters with butterflies, moths and other wildlife are unusual, delightful but infrequent. It doesn’t have to be this way and through our new strategy Butterfly Conservation is pledging to halve the number of threatened butterfly and moth species in the UK, double our impact on landscape restoration, and galvanise thousands of people to create new wild spaces for nature.
“We can’t do this alone though and are urging people to join us to create a world where butterflies and moths thrive and can be enjoyed by everyone, everywhere.”
Butterfly Conservation has just unveiled an ambitious new strategy to combat the declines to butterfly and moth numbers that we've seen in the results of the Big Butterfly Count 2021. You can find out more about it here.
Garden Tiger Moth
Results of the Big Butterfly Count 2021
Key to table: rank in abundance. species: abundance – average per count (% change from 2020)
Small white: 252,151 – 1.88 (-5%)
Large white: 229,218 – 1.71 (-16%)
Meadow brown: 197,060 – 1.47 (33%)
Gatekeeper: 133,726 – 0.99 (-30%)
Red admiral: 75,394 – 0.56 (-10%)
Ringlet: 63,311 – 0.47 (81%)
Peacock: 61,668 – 0.46 (-63%)
Small tortoiseshell: 38,543 – 0.29 (32%)
Marbled white: 28,704 – 0.21 (213%)
Green-veined white: 27,784 – 0.21 (-9%)
Small copper: 22,897 – 0.17 (11%)
Comma: 21,320 – 0.16 (-32%)
Speckled wood: 18,086 – 0.13 (-41%)
Six-spot burnet moth: 15,964 – 0.12 (42%)
Common blue: 14,376 – 0.11 (-59%)
Painted lady: 12,180 – 0.09 (44%)
Holly blue: 10,018 – 0.07 (-58%)
Brimstone: 7,984 – 0.06 (-33%)
Silver Y moth: 3,661 – 0.03 (53%)
Scotch argus: 2,326 – 0.02 (n/a)
Jersey tiger moth: 2,034 – 0.02 (n/a)
TOTAL: 1,238,405 – 9.21 (-14%)
Small White winner of the Big Butterfly Count 2021
Photographs © Ashley R Whitlock A.R.P.S J.S.A.P