Results of this year’s Big Butterfly Count revealed
Small Tortoiseshell most spotted Butterfly in Northern Ireland this summer
Wetter summer was good for butterflies, with average number of butterflies spotted across the UK highest for four years
However, new 13-year UK trend figures show a worrying long-term decline
Habitat loss biggest driver of decline; people urged to take action by creating a Wild Space
Results of Butterfly Conservation’s Big Butterfly Count 2023 have been released today, revealing that Small Tortoiseshell takes the top spot in Northern Ireland this year, and a better picture for butterflies than had been feared has emerged.
Following last summer’s drought, scientists at Butterfly Conservation called on the public to help them understand the effect the extreme weather had on the UK’s butterflies. 1,964 citizen scientists in Northern Ireland answered, taking part in this year’s Big Butterfly Count, conducting 2,581 15-minute Counts in gardens, parks, school grounds and the countryside.
This year, those participants recorded more than 18,500 butterflies and day-flying moths between 14 July – 6 August. On average, people in Northern Ireland spotted eight individual butterflies per Count, very similar to the 2022 event.
However, UK wide long-term trends, revealed for the first time this year, 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.
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 the 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 across the UK this summer has been the highest since 2019, the longer-term trends show worrying declines for some of the most common butterfly species.”
The top-five species spotted in Northern Ireland during this year’s Big Butterfly Count were Small Tortoiseshell, Small White, Peacock, Red Admiral and Large White. Small Tortoiseshell defied the pattern seen in the other UK countries; indeed on average four times as many Small Tortoiseshells were seen per Count in Northern Ireland this summer than in England.
Holly Blue and Red Admiral were seen in record Big Butterfly Count numbers this summer in Northern Ireland, and experienced increases on 2022 levels of 251% and 96% respectively. The new long-term trends show that both species have increased significantly in their abundance at the UK level since Big Butterfly Count began, increasing by 41% and 78%, respectively, over 13 years.
Common Blue and Ringlet, on the other hand, recorded their worst summers since the count began, and decreased by 32% and 84% compared with 2022, respectively. Again, these results reflect the longer-term UK pattern, with significant declines of 44% for Common Blue and 41% for Ringlet over the past 13 years.
Peacock was spotted in good numbers, increasing by 228% compared with 2022 and its best summer results in Northern Ireland since 2018.
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.”
Anyone, anywhere, can create a Wild Space. Whether it’s leaving a patch of long grass in your garden or planting a small selection of nectar rich plants on a balcony, the opportunities are vast and everyone can make a difference.
Dr Richard Fox concluded: “Nearly 137,000 Big Butterfly Counts were recorded across the UK this summer, if every single person who helped with the Count creates a Wild Space, we can build a UK-wide network of spaces for butterflies to feed, breed and shelter. By creating a Wild Space everyone can make a difference and help butterflies and moths thrive.”
Butterfly Conservation has free resources and guidance on creating a Wild Space available, including accessible, tailored, simple advice for anyone to have a go.
To find out more about Wild Spaces visit: https://wild-spaces.co.uk/
To find out more about Butterfly Conservation visit: https://butterfly-conservation.org/
BIG BUTTERFLY COUNT RESULTS 2023
Species results in the UK – Big Butterfly Count 2023
Next year’s Big Butterfly Count will take place from Friday 12th July – Sunday 4th August 2024.
This year, the Big Butterfly Count was sponsored by the DFN Foundation, a commissioning charity focused on influencing sustainable change in special needs education, supported employment, healthcare and conservation.