Counting butterflies reduces anxiety

Research conducted by the University of Derby in association with Butterfly Conservation reveals that counting butterflies reduces anxiety by almost 10%. 

tortoise butterflies

Researchers surveyed 382 participants in the Big Butterfly Count in 2022, which showed that the short time spent observing and counting butterflies for the charity, reduces anxiety by 9% on average, while also enhancing mental wellbeing.

The Big Butterfly Count is Butterfly Conservation’s flagship citizen science activity, involving tens of thousands of participants across the UK spending 15 minutes in any sunny spot and recording the number and type of common butterflies and day-flying moths that they see.

Dr Carly Butler, Researcher in Nature Connectedness at the University of Derby and lead researcher on the study, said: “Our study showed that even small periods of time spent watching and counting butterflies are beneficial, with the benefits of reduced anxiety and stronger nature connectedness being the same whether people carried out just one 15-minute count or took part multiple times. This is key in proving that simple, small pockets of time connecting with wildlife and nature have a profound and beneficial effect on how we feel.”

Dr Richard Fox, Head of Science at Butterfly Conservation, said: “While we have long known that there is a link between nature and human wellbeing, this study is the first to prove that the simple act of looking for and counting butterflies leads to a measurable decrease in anxiety. The results suggest that citizen science projects such as the Big Butterfly Count can play a part in improving people’s mental health, as well as gathering important data on how butterflies are faring to inform our conservation work.”

The findings of this new study show that citizen science projects could play a vital role in nature’s recovery. How connected people feel to nature is directly correlated to how motivated they are to protect it. Participants in the research reported a range of positive and negative emotions, including joy, fascination, sadness, and concern; the latter driven by not seeing as many butterflies as they expected and fear over what is happening to our planet.

The 2024 Big Butterfly Count will take place from Friday 12 July to Sunday 4 August.