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Big Butterfly Count 2020 sees lowest numbers of butterflies recorded in 11 years

By Kirsty Brown

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Butterfly Conservation has released data about the number of butterflies counted in this year’s Big Butterfly Count, which took place from July 17-August 19.

Worryingly this summer’s count has seen the average number of butterflies logged per count drop by 34 percent in comparison with 2019 and the lowest average number of butterflies logged overall since the event began eleven years ago.

In all over 1.4 million butterflies were counted across the UK.

Senior surveys sfficer at Butterfly Conservation Dr Zoe Randle said: “Unfortunately, this summer has not seen an abundance of butterflies, across the UK.

"We do see peaks and troughs of butterfly numbers each year (last year for example we saw a huge influx of migrant Painted Lady butterflies), so the data from the Big Butterfly Count is an important snapshot which, along with our other monitoring schemes, helps our understanding of the rates of decline of butterflies and moths.

“Coming so shortly after the recent WWF and UN reports on the global biodiversity crisis these 2020 results illustrate the perilous state of wildlife in the UK.

"The fact that so many people take part in this exciting citizen science initiative is encouraging and makes a huge difference to our understanding of how the natural world is responding to the crisis it is in.

"Now we need to see initiatives both here and across the world to put nature on a path to recovery.

“The fall in butterfly numbers this summer may be due to a number of factors.

"An unusually warm spring led many species to emerge earlier than usual, so we may have only caught the tail-end of the flight period for many species during this year’s Big Butterfly Count.

"It’s important to look at butterfly trends over longer periods, so our scientists will be using these results alongside our other datasets to get a clearer understanding of what is happening."

Encouragingly, 2020 also saw the highest number of butterfly sightings ever submitted by the general public with 111,628 participants submitting a record-breaking 145,249 counts this year, an increase of 25 percent on 2019.

It seems that, in a very dark and challenging year, the opportunity for getting out into nature and helping as citizen scientists was very welcome to people who were able to participate in the count this year.

Butterfly Conservation is thrilled the event was enjoyed by so many people.

Painted Lady. Picture courtesy of Iain Leach
Painted Lady. Picture courtesy of Iain Leach

A total of 4,188 counts were submitted by 3,207 participants in Scotland.

The most widely counted butterfly in the Big Butterfly Count in Scotland was Small Tortoiseshell, almost 5,000 individuals were seen, giving it pole position in the rankings.

Small Tortoiseshell generally fares better in Scotland and Northern Ireland than other UK countries in the Big Butterfly Count.

Continuing, Dr Randle said: "On average, participants in Scotland saw three times as many Small Tortoiseshells per count than people in England.

"A recent study has shown that in each of the last four years, a substantial majority of Small Tortoiseshells are in hibernation well before the end of the Big Butterfly Count in south-east England.

"This suggests that climate change may be having an impact on this species in the south.

While the decline of ecosystems across the world is a cause for great concern, it’s also possible to see the power of joint positive action in this year’s Big Butterfly Count.

As more and more people take an interest in nature and submit their sightings Butterfly Conservation can continue its research and work to protect butterflies, moths and the environment through closer understanding of the issues they face and finding the solutions to help.

Butterflies and moths are incredibly valuable indicators of the health of our environment. Their declines show not only the effects of human behaviour on the world around us but also the changing patterns of our weather. As well as being important and beautiful creatures in themselves, they play key roles in the ecosystems of birds, mammals, invertebrates and plants as food, population controllers and pollinators. Their conservation is vitally important.

CEO of Butterfly Conservation Julie Williams said: “A huge thank you to everyone who took part in the Big Butterfly Count this year.

"This important data is so valuable to our ongoing and vital research helping us to understand what is happening to our butterflies and moths so we can take focused action to protect these fantastic insects and conserve them for future generations.”

In Scotland, the changes from the 2019 survey were as follows:

Small Tortoiseshell - down 21 percent.

Small White - down 25 percent.

Large White - down five percent.

Meadow Brown - up 100 percent.

Peacock - down 56 percent.

Ringlet - up 94 percent.

Green-veined White - up five percent.

Red Admiral - down 50 percent.

Six-spot Burnet - up 208 percent.

Common Blue - up 71 percent.

Speckled Wood - up 31 percent.

Small Copper - up 27 percent.

Painted Lady - down 100 percent.

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