With the current heatwave, which has everyone attempting to cope with day-to-day activities with various degrees of success, and the combines already out in the fields, summer has well and truly arrived.
As many of you may be aware, this also means that it is time for the Big Butterfly Count. The world’s largest butterfly survey, a citizen science project utilising wildlife lovers up and down the country to record butterfly sightings in their local area, and feed back into the national monitoring scheme. This vital data is priceless to butterfly specialists who want to monitor the population and habitat use of the various species and focus their conservation efforts accordingly.
Many butterfly species, including several common species, have been facing declines over a number of years, with the 2021 Big Butterfly Count unfortunately recording the lowest number of butterflies and moths since it began, despite record numbers of public entries. The last forty years has seen a decline in over three-quarters of all UK butterfly species, making records more important than ever.
Chalkhill Blue - Photo: Rebecca Inman
When is the Big Butterfly count in 2022?
The Big Butterfly count takes place between Friday 15 July - Sunday 7 August 2022.
How to take part in the Big Butterfly Count?
It is very easy to take part in the Big Butterfly Count. You do not need to be a butterfly specialist or have huge amounts of spare time.
1. Download the Big Butterfly Count ID chart, and/or the free Butterfly Conservation app.
2. At any time between Friday 15 July - Sunday 7 August, find yourself a nice sunny spot and spare 15 minutes.
3. Count the number of butterflies you see during that time and use the ID chart or app to find out which butterfly species you have seen.
4. Submit your sightings via the free Big Butterfly Count app or online at bigbutterflycount.org.
To help get you started, we have put together a quick FWAG East favourites guide.
Picking our favourite butterfly species was a tricky task, but hopefully it will inspire you to begin taking more notice of these fantastic invertebrate, which are a major feature of the spring and summer sun.
1. Common Blue
Female Common Blue – Photo: Raphael Long
Male Common Blue – Photo: Alice Clark
The most widespread blue butterfly in the UK, the Common Blue is found in a range of grassy habitats. However, although it remains widespread, there have been local declines within its range.
The bright blue males are the most noticeable, but the more earth-toned females are easier to miss. The female common blue’s upper wings vary from mostly brown in the south of England to largely blue in Scotland and western Ireland. However, this colour can be variable within local populations.
A very common species, they are found in a variety of habitats, especially sheltered, sunny spots. The adults can be seen flying between mid-May and mid-October.
Peacock Butterfly – Photo: Alice Clark
A widespread species which has continued to expand its range north into the northern parts of Scotland and Ireland.
A fairly large butterfly, the peacock butterfly's most recognisable feature are its eyespots pattern on the wings, evolved to confuse predators, making it one of the easiest species to recognise. The undersides of the wings, however, are very dark and plain and, when the butterfly is holding still, can look like dead leaves.
The peacock is a familiar visitor to buddleias in the garden in late summer, however it will happily range throughout the countryside. Found throughout Britain and Ireland, the adults can be seen flying throughout much of the year.
3. Large White
Female Large White – Photo: Alice Clark
Another common species across the UK. The large white is a larger, strong flying butterfly.
As the name would suggest they have brilliant white wings, with black tips. The females also have two dark spots on the forewings, while the males do not. The undersides of the wings are a yellow-tinted white.
Large whites are found in a variety of habitats, particularly in gardens and allotments near where cabbages are grown. Widespread throughout Britain and Ireland, the adults can be seen flying between mid-April and the beginning of October.
4. Small Tortoiseshell
Small Tortoiseshell – Photo: Alice Clark
Widespread throughout Britain and Ireland, the small tortoiseshell is another species commonly found in gardens.
Among the most well-known butterflies in the UK, the small tortoiseshell has a recognisable pattern, which, combined with its frequent appearance throughout the year, make it a familiar species to many.
One of the first butterflies to be seen in the spring, they are often found visiting garden flowers. Although they are a popular garden visitor, they can also be found in a wide variety of habitats.
Comma – Photo: Alice Clark
The Comma has wings with scalloped edges, often giving the first impression that perhaps they have damaged wings. This unusual wing shape and vibrant orange colour, makes it easy to spot amongst vegetation.
A remarkable species, the comma faced severe declines in the twentieth century, but has since made a comeback, and is now widespread across England and Wales, with its range expanding northwards in Scotland. They are notable for having a flexible life cycle, which can allow them to take advantage of favourable weather conditions.
Most commonly found in open woodland and around woodland edges during breeding and while hibernating. They will also range more widely at other times to search for nectar and rotting fruit and can often be seen in gardens and other habitats. Adults can be seen flying throughout the year; however, they often have a peak flight in July.
6. Large Skipper
Male Large Skipper – Photo: Alice Clark
The Large Skipper is widespread in England and Wales, and since the 1960s its range has also been extending northwards into north-east England.
Male large skippers are often found resting in sunny positions, typically on a large leaf or flower in an elevated spot between taller and shorter vegetation. The females are less noticeable, although both are often seen feeding on flowers, bramble being a firm-favourite. Male large skippers also have a thick black line through the centre of forewing, and both sexes have a faint chequered pattern, which is not seen on the similar looking Small and Essex Skippers.
The large skipper prefers grassy areas, where the vegetation, particularly their foodplants, can grow tall and uncut within sheltered, often damp, conditions. It is found in a wide variety of habitats where there are tall grasses, and shrubs, i.e., woodland rides, roadside verges, and hedgerows. They can also be spotted in more urban habitats, such as in parks and churchyards. Adults can be seen flying from early June to the beginning of September.
7. Painted Lady
Painted Lady – Photo: Alice Clark
The Painted Lady is a long-distance migrant, which moves northwards each year from the edges of the desert regions in North Africa, the Middle East and central Asia, to mainland Europe with many butterflies travelling all the way to the UK. While numbers can fluctuant greatly year to year, during good years they can be seen in large numbers frequenting gardens and other flower-rich areas across England, and parts of Wales and Scotland. Adults can be seen flying from mid-March to mid-October, with peak numbers around May and September.
8. Orange Tip
Male Orange Tip – Photo: Alice Clark
A common and widespread species, this mid-sized butterfly is often found in gardens and along hedgerows.
The males are unmistakable white butterflies with, as their name suggests, bright orange wingtips. The females are less distinctive with white wings with black tips. Both, however, have mottled green underwings. These under wing markings are a useful feature to distinguish between female orange tips and small white butterflies which appear very similar but lack the underwing markings.
Orange tips typically prefer damp habitats such as meadows, woodland glades, and hedgerows. They are widespread throughout England and Wales, having also spread considerably in Scotland over the past 30 years. A favourite larval foodplant is Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata), also known as ‘Jack-by-the-hedge’. Adults can be seen flying from mid-April to mid-July, with another flush seen in the end of August and beginning of September.
9. Speckled Wood
Speckled Wood – Photo: Raphael Long
While the speckled wood experienced declines in their range during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, they have expanded out again since the 1920s. They have continued to expand their range over the past two decades and have since recolonized many areas in the eastern and northern parts of England and Scotland.
The fittingly named speckled wood is often found in areas of shaded woodland with dappled sunlight. The males can often be found perching in small pockets of sunlight. Both sexes feed on honeydew in treetops and are rarely spotted feeding at flowers, other than early and late in the year when the aphid activity is low.
Typically found in woodland rides and glades, gardens, parks, and hedgerows, they can also sometimes be seen leaving their sunny sports to spiral into the air chasing one another. Found throughout England (except in the far north), Wales and Ireland, and in northern Scotland. Adults can be seen flying from the end of March to the beginning of October.
10. Marbled White
Marbled White – Photo: Alice Clark
The marbled white is widespread in the south of England and over the last twenty years has begun expanding northwards and eastwards, with outlying populations now reaching Yorkshire and SW Wales.
A distinctive and recognisable black and white butterfly, it is unlikely to be easily mistaken for any other species. Commonly seen flying in July around areas of unimproved grassland, the marbled white demonstrates a notable preference for purple flowers such as Thistles, Knapweeds, Wild Marjoram, and Field Scabious.
Typically found in unimproved grassland with tall sward, their preferred habitat is chalk or limestone grassland, however they are known to stray into other habitats, such as woodland clearings, road verges, and sometimes even gardens. Adults can usually be seen flying from mid-June to mid-September.