Butterfly populations in the UK surged to their highest recorded levels since 2019, a heartening revelation that came from the Butterfly Conservation wildlife charity. Their meticulous research, conducted between 14th July and 6th August, enumerated a staggering total exceeding 1.5 million for both butterflies and day-flying moths.
The red admiral emerged as the most frequently reported species across the UK, with a remarkable 248,077 documented sightings reported in the charity’s survey. However, an analysis of long-term trends indicated a significant decline among numerous species since the inception of the count thirteen years ago.
Dr. Zoe Randle, lending her insights on the phenomenon, implied that butterflies serve as a useful barometer for environmental health. The insects appeared to have reaped the advantages of the unique weather patterns of 2023. She acknowledged that despite a somewhat disappointing summer, the alternating periods of rain showers and hot days maintained robust vegetation, thus providing ample sustenance for caterpillars.
“The red admiral particularly enjoyed an exceptional summer this year, with an increase of 338% compared to last year’s count. They seem to be adapting well to climate change in the UK, given that their natural habitats are typically the Mediterranean coast or North Africa,” she explained.
Thanks to the unwavering dedication of volunteers spread across the UK, data on butterfly abundance and the geographical distribution of different species were methodically collated. Dr. Randle expressed her appreciation for the enthusiastic public participation in the research this year. “It is really refreshing to see the increase in participation across all UK countries, resulting in a larger number of counts recorded, which is fantastic,” she said.
Participants were simply required to allocate 15 minutes in a sunny spot, such as a playground, local park, or residential garden, to observe and record moth and butterfly sightings.
Conservationists have conjectured that the butterflies thrived in this year’s damper weather, with an average of 12 butterflies recorded per count, compared to the previous year’s nine amidst prolonged drought and heat.
Data from the Big Butterfly Count revealed that the gatekeeper followed close behind the red admiral, with 222,896 reported sightings, denoting an increase of 12% from the previous year. However, statistics over the long-term show a decline by 28% since 2010 in this species. Large white and small white butterflies occupied the third and fourth positions for the most observed species.
Unfortunately, species such as the ringlet, common blue, and speckled wood showed a decline when compared to both last year and the long-term trend.
Dr. Richard Fox, head of science at Butterfly Conservation, highlighted habitat loss as one of the chief threats to butterfly populations. “Butterflies need a place to live. If they can access food, breeding grounds and shelter, they can not only survive but thrive,” he stated.