Posted by: Megan Stone, Graduate Ecological and Environmental Consultant

From the 15th July to the 7th August this year, The Big Butterfly Count 2022 took place, a nationwide citizen science project aimed at helping us to monitor the health of our environment. You may be wondering how counting butterflies helps us to assess our ecosystems and why they are such an important species. For anyone relatively new to this, read on to find out more.

The butterfly count is a great barometer for the wider environment as butterflies react very quickly to any changes in the environment, meaning that we can pre-empt any changes and aim to mitigate the negative effects on biodiversity in the UK. Put simply, if the number of butterflies is low, we need to take action.

Not only are butterflies beautiful, they’re also incredibly important pollinators. We place great importance on improving biodiversity and the environment, which is why the wildflower roof at Bruntwood Works in Manchester City Centre was designed to attract pollinators like butterflies.

Golf courses can also be great habitats for butterflies. In the UK we have around 60 species of butterflies, with around a third of these often seen in gardens and urban green spaces. By actively encouraging wildflowers and minimising the nutrients in soil the pollinators are far more likely to use the golf course as a habitat, as has been evidenced on an increasing number of golf courses across the world.

Dan Kendle from Newquay Golf Course, who won the Operation Pollinator award at the Golf Environment Awards 2022, has taken part in several Big Butterfly Counts this year and found species that are visiting the golf course for the first time, such as Clouded Yellow (Colias croceus).  The image shows how many butterflies and moths Dan recorded in just one 15-minute survey on the golf course. I think this proves how golf courses can be vital assets for ecology and support a wide number and diversity of pollinator species.  This is crucial for the future conservation of butterflies, seen as 76% of UK butterfly species have declined in the last four decades.  We need more golf clubs in the UK to adopt more natural management plans and remember that it is not just golfers that can benefit from these wide expanses of land.  If you would be interested in knowing how you can attract more pollinator species to your golf course or other green space, then get in touch with our ecologists, who would be happy to advise and visit your site.

The Big Butterfly Count takes place every year and we’d encourage as many people as possible to take part. You may also see some day-flying moths such as Six-spot Burnet (Zygaena filipendulae), Jersey Tiger (Euplagia quadripunctaria) or Silver Y (Autographa gamma).  You may be surprised to learn that there are more day-flying moth species in the UK than butterfly species! Moths are also vital pollinators, with studies evidencing that they pollinate a wider variety of plants than bees, which served as inspiration to launching an Instagram account (megs_moths) dedicated to my day-to-day moth sightings.

As this citizen science project launched 10 years ago, it is likely that at this point there was a noticeable difference in butterfly numbers which instigated the need for data.  There are some butterfly species that aren’t on the wing during the Big Butterfly Count period though, such as the Orange Tip butterfly which flies from mid-April to early July. So, what about the numbers of those species? Should the Big Butterfly Count run throughout the year so we can track changes for all species?  We would then be able to see if species are emerging earlier and if this was linked to rising global temperatures.  Can there be any in harm in collecting more data for a wider variety of species?  Let us know your thoughts.  If you have taken part in the Big Butterfly Count this year, we would love to know what results you got!