Despite worrying long term trend, summer 2023 butterfly count positive

The results of Butterfly Conservation’s Big Butterfly Count 2023 reveal a better picture for butterflies than originally feared.

Peacock butterfly on lavender

Overall, participants reported seeing more butterflies in 2023 than in the previous four summers. In total, over 1.5 million butterflies and day-flying moths were recorded from 14 July – 6 August. After an all-time low in 2022 of just nine individual butterflies spotted per Count, this year saw an increase to 12 butterflies recorded on average per Count.

However, this good news is in stark contrast with what the long-term trends are revealing. Released for the first time this year, the results show that since the Big Butterfly Count started 13 years ago, butterfly species have significantly decreased. A warning sign, that nature everywhere is in crisis – butterflies, as well as forming a vital part of the food chain, are considered significant indicators of the health of the environment.

The Senior Surveys Officer at Butterfly Conservation, Dr Zoe Randle said that “The mixed weather this year has helped as there has been an abundance of green food plants available for caterpillars, and plenty of nectar-rich flowers for adult butterflies. However, while the number of butterflies recorded this summer has been the highest since 2019, the longer-term trends show worrying declines for some of the UK’s most common butterfly species.”

Red admirals top the list, with 248,077 recorded – an increase of 338% on 2022. The first time the species has taken the top-spot. Gatekeepers came in second with 222,896 sightings, a 12% increase on last year. A small boost for a species that has according to the charity has decreased by 28% since the Count began. Whites took the third and fourth spot, with 216,666 sightings of Large Whites and 190,506 of Small Whites, an 11% and 15% increase on 2022 respectively. Holly Blue had another good summer, with numbers up 66% on 2022, in keeping with its longer-term Big Butterfly Count trend of a 41% increase. Species that saw a decline from last year include Ringlet, Common Blue and Speckled Wood, all of which also show long-term declines.

For further information on butterfly conservation and taking part in the Big Butterfly Count, we refer you to the Butterfly Conservation website.