WITH summer truly under way in the northern hemisphere, now is a perfect time to spot butterflies and day-flying moths. If you live in the UK, you can help conservation scientists by participating in this year’s Big Butterfly Count.
By simply counting the amount and type of butterflies and moths you see, and logging your results via the Big Butterfly Count app or website, you can help researchers investigate where different species in the UK are located and how they are responding to climate change.
“You can’t conserve something unless you know where it’s found,” says Zoë Randle, senior surveys officer at the UK charity behind the count, Butterfly Conservation.
This year’s Big Butterfly Count has now started and runs until 8 August, so there is still plenty of time to join in. Once you have chosen a place to spot butterflies and day-flying moths, wait and watch for 15 minutes and record which species you see out of 20 target species, and the highest number of individuals of that species you see at one time.
Don’t worry if you don’t know your painted ladies from your commas – a handy ID chart is available on the Big Butterfly Count app or website, where you can also record your observations.
Sunny weather is ideal for spotting butterflies, says Randle. “Butterflies are insects – they’re cold-blooded and they need the warmth from the sun,” she says.
Data provided through the Big Butterfly Count and other research efforts indicate that while some species are expanding their range as the planet heats up, others are faring less well.
“The ringlet butterfly is expanding its range due to climate change, [as are] the speckled wood and the comma,” says Randle. But the small tortoiseshell butterfly, often spotted in gardens in the UK, has fallen by 79 per cent since 1976, she says.
All that data enables the charity to see what’s happening, says Randle. The other great thing about the Big Butterfly Count, she says, is that many participants live in towns and cities, so people can provide data from less well studied habitats, such as local urban gardens and parks, as well as from private gardens.
If you are a butterfly fan living in Central or North America, or in the Caribbean, you can contribute to conservation science by recording your butterfly sightings through the eButterfly project: visit e-butterfly.org to learn more.
Butterflies are an important part of food chains and contribute to ecosystems by pollinating plants, says Randle. “Everybody goes crazy about bees, but there’s evidence that butterflies are good pollinators as well.”
Keeping an eye on butterfly populations also provides a good indicator of how other insects are doing, including more active pollinators such as bees. “They’re like a barometer of what’s happening,” says Randle.
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