Want to learn about some of our most beautiful creatures? Want to discover the back garden wildlife stars in your neighbourhood? Want to help Sir David Attenborough measure the health of the planet? Want to get outdoors and have some fun? Then get out for the Big Butterfly Count between 19th July and 10th August.
This is the fifth year of the Big Butterfly Count which aims to gather information on the health of our butterfly populations around the UK. You can do the Count anywhere and it’s really simple. Just choose a sunny day, spend 15 minutes counting the butterflies you see, and send you records in online.
The Count is sponsored by M&S as part of its Plan A sustainability programme and aims to help connect people with nature as well as understand changes in the natural world. Butterflies are extremely sensitive indicators of the health of the environment, so by counting their numbers each year we can assess the long term health of the environment.
Already more than 93,000 people have taken part, making it the biggest citizen science projects of its type in the world. . We started in 2010, the year of biodiversity. Butterfly numbers hit an all-time low in 2012 but bounced back in 2013. A key question this year is whether numbers will continue to rally or resume their long term decline.
The early signs are good. Warmer than average temperatures every month so far this year have provided good conditions for butterflies to breed. Watch out especially for the Small Tortoiseshell, one of our most familiar garden butterflies. This much-loved garden favourite has declined enormously over recent decades but people are reporting lots of caterpillars on patches of nettle - their sole food-plant.
Also keep a look out for Peacocks, with their dramatic eye-spots, one on each wing, and the Comma with its ragged wing edges. Both these species have been spreading north with climate change and we are keen to chart their progress. If you live in Scotland, or go on holiday, you could be the first to see them in a new area.
Getting started is easy. Download an ID chart from the Big Butterfly Count website and get familiar with the 21 widespread species you might see. Then, when the Count starts, begin counting. You can submit records from lots of different places, the more the merrier, to help us make a full assessment of the UK.
Alternatively, you can download the Big Butterfly Count smartphone app (available for iOS and Android devices), making it even easier to identify species and submit sightings when you are out and about. The results are then uploaded directly to the Big Butterfly Count website.
Records from towns and cities are as especially useful as there is evidence that butterflies are doing better in urban areas compared to the countryside. Butterfly breeding habitats have been severely reduced in recent decades but Butterfly Conservation is working with farmers and landowners to restore suitable areas. Each species needs its own caterpillar food-plant and an abundant supply of flowers for nectar.
You can help butterflies by planting a good range of nectar sources in your garden. If you have enough space, let an area go wild. Several species breed on grasses and only need a few rough areas to survive. A leaflet on how to garden for butterflies is available on the Butterfly Conservation website. We are working with M&S farmers to help restore habitats on their farms, so when you eat M&S food, you know they are taking care of wildlife as well as providing high quality food to eat.
So do something useful this summer. Get out for the Big Butterfly Count and help us take the pulse of nature.
The Big Butterfly Count runs from 19th July until 10th August. Full details and a downloadable ID chart can be found at www.bigbutterflycount.org
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