Give back to nature by counting butterflies this weekend, garden spotters urged

The sight of nature carrying on regardless while human life was put on hold was credited with helping many garden watchers keep a sense of perspective during the spring – and with one species of visitor enjoying more than its usual days in the sun, the TV naturalist Chris Packham suggested it was time to return the favour.

The annual “citizen science” survey which aims to stocktake the populations of butterflies in urban and rural parts of England, expects to report the earliest emergences of the insects for the last 20 years, with the hot weather having played havoc with their normal calendar.

Butterfly Conservation, which organises the count, said it had received thousands of extra inquiries about butterfly and moth sightings from members of the public with time on their hands to observe such things more closely than usual.

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Mr Chris Packham, who is spokesman for the Big Butterfly Count, said those who took part in it would be giving “a gift back to nature”.

A Peacock butterfly with Ingleborough in the background.
Picture: Tony Johnson.A Peacock butterfly with Ingleborough in the background.
Picture: Tony Johnson.
A Peacock butterfly with Ingleborough in the background. Picture: Tony Johnson.

Last year, more than 113,000 people stopped in their tracks for 15 minutes to count the number and type of butterflies and day-flying moths and then log their findings on a website. The attraction then was the once-in-a-decade invasion of the Painted Lady – a phenomenon beloved by naturalists but little known outside the world of lepidopterology.

This time, said Mr Packham, the lure was more universal and the survey, which runs from today until August 9, could be the biggest yet.

“While so many of us have had a bit more time to appreciate the nature on our doorsteps during the lockdown period, and learning about the natural world has been a mindful distraction from uncertainty, this is a real chance to do something positive and contribute to conserving nature,” he said.

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“Butterflies and moths are key indicators of the health of our environment and anyone can help contribute to our understanding of these incredible creatures.”

The Big Butterfly Count phone appThe Big Butterfly Count phone app
The Big Butterfly Count phone app

The reports of sightings will be used to map and measure populations and the geographic spread of species across the UK, and Mr Packham said: “We’re asking everyone who has been given a helping hand from nature this year to return the favour.”

Dr Zoe Randle, senior surveys officer at Butterfly Conservation, said the very sunny spring weather meant almost all butterfly species had emerged early this summer.

As climate change affects country’s weather patterns, it was important for experts to capture information about what was happening to wildlife, she added.

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“We’ve seen an incredible amount of interest from people who have been out and about in their gardens and local areas spotting butterflies for the first time. Nature has really shown its true value to us this year, but it is still under threat. We must all do our little bit to protect it.”

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