The Big Butterfly Count – Winners and Losers

Jersey Tiger (Euplagia quadripunctaria)

Dear Readers, Butterfly Conservation have just published their report based on the Big Butterfly Count this year, and it makes for very interesting reading. First up, the Jersey Tiger, the Vulcan Bomber of the moth world, is up by an amazing 136%, making it the species with the biggest single increase. Anecdotally, people have been tripping over these moths all over London, and at one point there were three in my garden alone. The caterpillars feed on hemp agrimony, of which I have several unruly clumps, so this might be part of the explanation.

In other news, blue butterflies have had an excellent year, with Holly Blues up 120% from 2021, and Common Blues up 154%, although the blues had a very bad year in 2021 so it isn’t quite as impressive as it seems.

Holly blue (Celastrina argiolus)

Gatekeepers had a very good year too, with nearly 143,000 spotted, making them the commonest butterflies in the count. They were up 57% on 2021.

Gatekeeper (Pyronia tithonus)

However, while we celebrate these winners, it’s worth noting that overall, numbers are down – each person who counted for the survey only saw an average of 9 butterflies, an all time low for the 13 years that the survey has been running. There was a hope that the numbers would be up because of the hot summer, but clearly habitat destruction has a bigger impact. Some species, such as the Jersey Tiger and the blue butterflies are heading north, as climate change makes the temperature conditions more amenable, but some very common, iconic butterflies are still declining.

The Red Admiral was down 20% on the 2021 figures.

Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)

The ringlet is down 38%

Ringlet (Aphantopus hyperantus)

And the Marbled White is down 71%. This, however, is a butterfly that has been making a comeback in London in particular, and which likes unimproved grassland. It lives very briefly as an adult (less than six weeks), and I wonder if the timing of the count didn’t quite coincide with its emergence this year. Fingers crossed. You can read more about this species, and some other London butterflies, here.

Marbled White (Melanargia galathea)

So, there are ups and downs but it is something of a depressing picture. When we’re planning our gardens (if we’re lucky enough to have one), or campaigning for local green space, it’s so important to make sure that there’s something for caterpillars as well as adult butterflies, even if that makes the place a little untidier than we’d like. Let’s see if No Mow May has had an impact when the count takes place next year – I get the feeling that it was taken up as a challenge by more people than usual, which will have saved a lot of eggs and caterpillars. Long may it continue.

You can see the full results at the link below, including a breakdown by country which made for very interesting reading.


4 thoughts on “The Big Butterfly Count – Winners and Losers

  1. Anne

    This is interesting – you do keep us on our toes. I am beginning to see a few butterflies around, but way fewer than usual. Even though mine is a butterfly friendly garden in every sense, I am keeping my fingers crossed.

  2. Alittlebitoutoffocus

    An interesting set of figures, though I do wonder how accurate or representative it is if it’s just 15 minutes in May. We still have Red Admirals on our buddleia (when the rain stops and wind doesn’t blow of course) and I saw two small reddy/orange butterflies (could have been moths) flitting across the golf course today, but I didn’t have the time to follow them to see them land.

    1. Bug Woman Post author

      I think it’s usually July and August but you’re right, 15 minutes isn’t very long (though maybe long enough if you’ve got children :-))


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