Enjoy The Big Butterfly Count Blog From Expert Dr Zoe Randle

As the warm, long nights of summer continue help us move on from those dark days of the winter lockdown, perhaps we, like a butterfly, are going through our own emergence and metamorphosis back into the light. For many over the past year, getting out in nature, whatever the weather, has been a source of solace, comfort and inspiration, and at this time of year, it’s wonderful to be able to give a little something back.

The Big Butterfly Count will be launching again on 16 July and we’re going to be talking about how, more than ever, this simple citizen science survey is something which can be done by anyone, anywhere. From urban to country environments and whatever your age or ability, simply spending a little time in a sunny spot outdoors is all it takes to make your contribution to conservation.

Last year we were lucky enough to receive more counts than ever before (more than a whopping 145,000) though our new app and website. This year we’d love to attract even more people to take part, because the more data we can gather the better, and now more than ever before so many people have realised the true value of protecting and conserving our precious wildlife.

Big Butterfly Count 2021

The 2021 Big Butterfly Count will be just as easy to complete as in previous years. You can choose to either download the Big Butterfly Count App or on of the downloadable sheets from the dedicated website (Bigbutterflycount.org) where you can enter your findings. The Big Butterfly Count will launch on Friday 16 July and run until Sunday 8 August, although the website and app will remain open throughout August so that you can continue to submit your counts.

It’s a fantastic activity for people of all ages, from 1 to 101. Taking part simply involves spending 15 minutes in an outdoor space during sunny conditions and making a note though the app or website of the butterflies and some day-flying moths you see. You can do as many counts as you like on different days during the three-week Big Butterfly Count period, and even unsuccessful counts (where you saw no butterflies at all) are important and should be submitted.

A butterfly on a flower

What am I likely to see?

Big Butterfly Count takes place during the peak abundance of butterflies in the UK, when the most widespread and numerous species are on the wing. Nevertheless, no two years are alike, and butterflies adjust their emergence dates to suit the vagaries of the UK weather which they need to do to stay in sync with the plants their caterpillars feed on. The warm spring last year meant that many species were out and about up to two-weeks earlier than usual so numbers were dwindling, particularly in southern England, by the time the Big Butterfly Count came around. We seem to being having a later start to the season this year so providing we have a sunny summer, butterflies will be numerous during the Big Butterfly Count.

Where you live or make your butterfly count will determine what you are likely to see, as butterfly communities can be different in urban or rural areas as well as clustered in different places across the UK. Almost all of the target Big Butterfly Count species are widespread across the UK, but a few, such as the Gatekeeper and Holly Blue, are scarce or absent from some parts, particularly further north. The Scotch Argus, as the name suggests is predominantly found in Scotland. It lives in damp, acid or neutral grassland and around the fringes of sheltered bogs, in woodland clearings, and young plantations.

Habitat, location and previous weather will determine the species you are likely to see in your area

The habitat that you chose to do your Big Butterfly Count in will also affect the species you are likely to see. You can encounter many species of butterfly in your own garden, so you won’t be disappointed if you’re unable to venture further afield. The Small Tortoiseshell, the iconic garden butterfly, can be found in towns and the countryside alike. The butterfly frequents gardens, parks, and church yards and will often be seen alongside big showy Peacocks which have big blue eyespots that are flashed at potential predators to ward them off. Holly Blue is a lover of shrubs, particularly Holly and Ivy and is a regular visitor to gardens even in the heart of our towns and cities. These butterflies generally fly a couple of meters above the ground and appear to hop from bush to bush. The Comma, which is easily distinguished with its scalloped wings, is also a garden visitor although they are more numerous in open woodland and wood edges. Red Admiral, one of our largest butterflies, a super-strong flier that comes to our shores having set off from North Africa and Southern Europe. This butterfly is regularly found nectaring on Buddleia.

If you’re feeling more adventurous and take a trip to the woods to do your count keep an eye out for Speckled Wood, it is chocolate brown with vanilla cream spots on its wings. This butterfly can be found flitting and gliding along woodland rides and glades as well as in gardens, parks and hedgerows. It prefers slightly damp areas where the grass is tall and there is some shade. It can be found in scrubby grassland and woodland. It a mobile species and can often be seen flying along roadside verges and hedgerows. Brimstones are a spirit lifting beacon of spring letting you know longer warmer days are ahead. They can be found feeding on the purple flowers of Wild Teasle, along with Peacocks as both of these butterflies have tongues long enough to reach the nectar in the flowers.

If you’re out and about in on heathlands or chalk grasslands, you have the chance to encounter the Small Copper in dry dusty places. They fly around manically, and the feisty males defend their territories with gusto. Wall Brown butterflies can often be seen out on coastal walks where you can find them basking on bare ground or stony areas. The Six-spot Burnet moth can also be found near cliff-edges as well as flowery grasslands, woodland rides, roadside verges and sand-dunes.

The biggest factor determining what you’ll see will be the weather leading up to and during the count. We’ve been lucky to have generally fine, sunny weather during the last three Big Butterfly Counts, and we are hoping for a repeat this summer. We’ve had a cooler than average winter and the impact of our weather in spring and early summer won’t be known until people take part in Big Butterfly Count 2021.