Britons urged to help record influx of painted lady butterflies

High numbers have reached UK in past six weeks and many of their offspring will emerge during Big Butterfly Count

Wildlife lovers are being urged to help record the greatest influx of painted lady butterflies for a decade as part of the world’s largest butterfly survey.

Unusually high numbers of the migratory butterfly have flown into Britain from continental Europe in the last six weeks and some of their offspring will emerge during the Big Butterfly Count, which starts on Friday.

This “painted lady summer” is the most significant since 2009, when 11m arrived in Britain. The butterfly is continuously migratory, with offspring making the reverse journey to warmer climes at summer’s end, with successive generations even crossing the Sahara before making their way north again next spring.

Chris Packham, vice-president of Butterfly Conservation, urged people to join in the survey in which people can download a free app and spend 15 minutes counting butterflies in their local park, nature reserve or garden.

“The painted lady migration is one of the wonders of the natural world,” said Packham. “Travelling up to 1km in the sky and at speeds of up to 30mph these seemingly fragile creatures migrate hundreds of miles to reach our shores each year.

“This butterfly undertakes an extraordinary 7,500-mile round trip from tropical Africa to the Arctic Circle every year – almost double the length of the famous migrations of the monarch butterfly in North America.

“Signs across Europe are looking very promising, meaning that 2019 could be a very good year for the painted lady with high numbers already being recorded across parts of the UK.”

According to Richard Fox of Butterfly Conservation, this year’s migration began with huge numbers of painted ladies in Cyprus, Rhodes and other parts of the eastern Mediterranean. Some of these insects’ offspring travelled through eastern Europe and into eastern England around 14 June. Others moved through Spain and arrived in western England two weeks later.

Fox said: “Lots of eggs have been laid so if the weather stays fair these should be emerging as adult painted ladies before the end of the Big Butterfly Count. That’s pretty exciting.”

The Big Butterfly Count is celebrating its 10th birthday this year and last year more than 100,000 people counted more than 1m butterflies during three weeks of high summer. Butterfly Conservation is working with Mind, the mental health charity, to raise awareness of the benefits of spending time in nature by doing things such as the count.

Packham added: “The mental health benefits of spending time outdoors watching nature have been blindingly obvious to me for as long as I can remember. Immersing yourself in nature, even if it’s just for a few short minutes, changes your perspective, it helps you slow down and notice what’s going on around you and it opens a door to the overlooked beauty and drama of our natural world.”


Patrick Barkham

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Painted lady stars in bumper Big Butterfly Count
Numbers of top five species up on last year while small tortoiseshell moves north

Patrick Barkham

13, Sep, 2019 @5:00 AM

Article image
Record low number of British butterflies baffles scientists
Annual Big Butterfly Count shows big falls in peacocks and small tortoiseshells

Patrick Barkham

28, Sep, 2020 @5:22 AM

Article image
British butterflies suffered seventh worst year on record in 2017
Annual monitoring shows many native species suffered further falls, and two declining species had their worst seasons on record

Patrick Barkham

11, Apr, 2018 @5:30 AM

Article image
Number of butterflies in the UK at a record low, survey finds
Experts say results of Butterfly Conservation’s latest survey signal that nature is ‘in crisis’

Miranda Bryant

07, Oct, 2021 @5:01 AM

Article image
Record low number of British butterflies a 'shock and a mystery'
Annual Big Butterfly Count records lowest ever number of usually prolific species despite the relatively warm, dry summer

Patrick Barkham

10, Oct, 2016 @7:36 AM

Article image
2016 could be worst year on record for British butterflies, experts warn
Public asked to take part in annual count to assess the impact of a sunless summer, cool spring and mild winter on butterfly numbers

Patrick Barkham

15, Jul, 2016 @5:01 AM

Article image
Britain’s butterflies bolstered by conservation efforts
Heath fritillary among species helped by habitat restoration – but concerns over future remain

Damian Carrington Environment editor

30, Mar, 2022 @5:00 AM

Article image
Scotland’s butterflies flourishing in hotter summers
Several species including red admiral show marked increase but climate crisis poses long-term threat

Libby Brooks Scotland correspondent

19, Aug, 2022 @12:08 PM

Article image
Rare UK butterflies enjoy best year since monitoring began
Hot summer of 2018 boosted large blue, and black hairstreak, but small tortoiseshell declined

Patrick Barkham

08, Apr, 2019 @5:30 AM

Article image
Britons urged to help chart spread of thriving butterfly species
Campaign asks wildlife enthusiasts to visit local woodland to record number of speckled woods and other butterflies

Patrick Barkham

01, Aug, 2016 @5:01 AM