This year’s Big Butterfly Count recorded fewer butterflies than in any previous year.
In one of the world’s biggest citizen scientist surveys, Butterfly Conservation’s Big Butterfly Count asks participants to sit down for 15 minutes in a park or garden or an open green space to identify and record the butterflies they see in that time. This year, despite a summer of record-breaking sunshine, each count averaged fewer than nine butterflies, the lowest since the Big Butterfly Count began in 2010.
In 2021 more that 150,000 counts were made by almost 110,000 participants; this year only 100,000 counts were made. It has been suggested that people may not have reported their findings when they saw no butterflies at all; if they had, the average could have been even lower. Each of the average counts of the last three years has been the lowest: a worrying downward trend that shows Britain’s Lepidoptera populations continuing to fail under pressure.
Here, and in the gallery below, are the top 10 most frequently seen butterflies in this year’s count:
 Gatekeeper (+58%)  Large white (-9.4%)  Small white (-25.8%)  Meadow brown (-17.5%)  Red admiral (-20%)
The figures in round brackets are the difference between this year’s count and 2021’s count….
More than three-quarters of this year’s counts were made in urban gardens, supporting studies that show butterfly populations declining more rapidly in our towns than in the countryside. The decreasing garden size in modern housing estates, the popularity of plastic grass, the paving of front gardens for parking space and the use of off-the-shelf pesticides have all contributed to this decline.
While this is worrying news, there things we can do about it. We can continue wildlife gardening (we know that a lot of our readers are avid wildlife gardeners); we can ask the allotment keepers to leave long grass areas where butterfly larvae will hibernate in and among the long stems; we can badger Wiltshire Council about leaving uncut road verges, about not tidying away the long vegetation beside footpaths and car parks, about planting native species in the parks that will support our native butterflies.
…. Peacock (-5.5%)  Small tortoiseshell (+13%)  Comma (+94%)  Ringlet (-38.5%)  Common blue (+154%)
It’s not all bad news. Some species’ numbers rose this year: gatekeepers, the pretty small tortoiseshell, commas, and in particular, common blues were all counted more frequently this year than last.
The Big Butterfly Count is just an indicator, pointing out the way in which butterfly numbers are moving. But butterflies are themselves indicator species, delicately responsive to changes in their environment. We need to to listen to the messages that all these numbers are sending us, all these indicators pointing in one direction: we have to make changes before all the butterflies disappear.
This year unfortunately made only one butterfly transect and no moth trappings, but have recorded 19 species of butterfly and 10 moth species in the reserve. Of note were the high number of Ringlets and Marbled Whites and for the first time in some 8 years Clouded Yellow and Orange Swift moths. Hopefully will be able to conduct more trancepts and trappings next year.
I saw clouded yellows by the canal near Whaddon Lane a couple of years ago, the first I had seen for a long time. Perhaps they are making a comeback.