The UK is currently home to 59 butterfly species – 57 native species and 2 migrant species. Although we may not realise it, these species are actually important pollinators of many wildflowers, meaning that they make an essential contribution to plant and animal diversity. The Big Butterfly Count is a way for everyone at home to help conserve these vital insects.
Not only are they important for plant reproduction, butterflies are also used by scientists as indicators of ecosystem health and populations of a wide range of invertebrates. Therefore, butterflies are extremely useful when it comes to studying the impact of habitat loss and climate change on ecosystem biodiversity as a whole.
As a consequence of their importance, it is not good news that 5 species of UK butterfly became extinct in the 20th century. Additionally, the State of UK’s Butterflies 2015 report found that 76% of the UK’s resident butterflies had declined in abundance over the past four decades.
The decline in populations of habitat specialist butterflies (species which live in specific types of habitat) is likely due to land use change such as deforestation in order to build more houses and develop more land for agricultural use. Wider countryside species (less dependent on specific types of habitat) are also in decline, though the specific reasons for this are not completely understood. Climate change and an increase in the frequency of extreme climatic events are likely contributors to the decline of both types of butterfly species.
The more people that take part, the more reliable the data will be
So, you’ve heard the bad news. Hopefully you’re asking yourself what you can do to help. Well here’s the good news: the charity Butterfly Conservation runs an annual survey called The Big Butterfly Count which allows everyday people in the UK to collect and record important data regarding the abundance of butterfly species.
This data will allow researchers to draw conclusions about the state of biodiversity as a whole and the effect that climate change is having on it. In 2019 116,009 counts of butterflies were submitted. The more people that take part, the more reliable the data will be.
So how can you get involved? All you have to do is count the different species of butterfly that you observe in your garden, a park or on a walk within a 15-minute time period. If you are counting from the same spot, then you’re advised to count the maximum number of the same species that you see at the same time. This helps prevent counting the same butterfly twice. However, if on a walk you can record all sightings.
It’s often best to pick a warm, sunny day for this because butterflies rely mostly on external heat to warm up. As butterfly identification is often not common knowledge, you can download an identification chart from the Big Butterfly count website or from the app.
The Big Butterfly Count “offers us all precious breathing space away from the stresses and strains of modern life”
Once you have recorded your data, all that’s left to do is submit it. You can submit your data on the website or via the free app. You can do as many counts as you wish from different days or different places. However, this year’s count ends on August 9th, so you haven’t got long!
It’s been scientifically proven that spending time outdoors is associated with higher levels of wellbeing and taking part in a survey such as this is an excellent excuse to do so. Results published in the journal Scientific Reports in 2019 concluded that spending 2 hours or more in nature per week significantly increased the likelihood of reporting good health and high wellbeing.
Sir David Attenborough, president of Butterfly Conservation, explains that spending time in nature by partaking in the Big Butterfly Count “offers us all precious breathing space away from the stresses and strains of modern life.” Arguably these benefits we receive from being outside are more important than ever considering the current situation with the Coronavirus pandemic.
Find out more and submit your butterfly counts at bigbutterflycount.butterfly-conservation.org
In article images: Red Admiral butterfly in West Yorkshire by Gemma Seed; Speckled Wood butterfly in Derby by Myron Winter-Brownhill; butterfly in West Yorkshire by Gemma Seed. All images presented with permission and unchanged.
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