SIR David Attenborough is calling for all of us to help to save our butterflies, so Heather Barron is sharpening her pencil, ready for The Big Butterfly Count

As president of the charity Butterfly Conservation, Sir David recognises how important it is to keep track of the butterfly population. The count is a nationwide survey organised by the charity, and aimed at helping to assess the health of our environment.

It was first launched in 2010 and has rapidly become the world's biggest survey of butterflies. More than 36,000 people took part in 2016, counting almost 400,000 individual butterflies and day-flying moths across the UK. See the 2016 results here.

If you want to take part, the Big Butterfly Count 2017 is taking place until Sunday, August 6.

Sir David says: “The next few weeks are a vital period for our butterflies. They need to make the most of this chance to feed and breed. So far, the warm weather has given some species like the Meadow Brown, Red Admiral and Ringlet a good start but butterflies really need this to continue.

“Last year, despite a warm summer, butterflies like the Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock, Meadow Brown and Gatekeeper saw their numbers fall as a warm winter and cold spring earlier in the year led to problems that affected their numbers later on.

“Worryingly, we are now seeing the fortunes of some of our once common butterflies mirror those of our rarest species and they too are now also suffering significant declines with butterflies declining more rapidly in urban areas than in the countryside.

“In the last decade, our butterflies have experienced several poor years and although resilient, they simply cannot sustain repeated losses, especially if the habitats they need in order to rebuild their populations are also under threat.”


Butterflies react very quickly to change in their environment which makes them excellent biodiversity indicators. Butterfly declines are an early warning for other wildlife losses.

That’s why counting butterflies can be described as taking the pulse of nature.

The count will also assist in identifying trends in species that will help Butterfly Conservation plan how to protect butterflies from extinction, as well as understand the effect of climate change on wildlife.


Simply count butterflies for 15 minutes during bright (preferably sunny) weather during the big butterfly count. This is the best time of year because most butterflies are at the adult stage of their lifecycle, so more likely to be seen. Records are welcome from anywhere: from parks, school grounds and gardens, to fields and forests.

If you are counting from a fixed position in your garden, count the maximum number of each species that you can see at a single time. For example, if you see three Red Admirals together on a buddleia bush, then record it as 3, but if you only see one at a time then record it as 1 (even if you saw one on several occasions). This is so that you don’t count the same butterfly more than once . If you are doing your count on a walk, then simply total up the number of each butterfly species that you see during the 15 minutes.

Download the handy identification chart from the website to help you work out which butterflies you have seen.

You can submit separate records for different dates at the same place, and for different places that you visit. Remember that your count is useful even if you do not see any butterflies or moths.

You can send in your sightings online at or by using our FREE big butterfly count smartphone apps available for iOS and Android.

Do not send in counts on paper or by email, text or phone. The website will be open to receive records throughout July and August.

Richard Fox, Head of Recording for Butterfly Conservation, has a few suggestions of how you can help the butterfly population in your garden:

1. Take part in Big Butterfly Count - perfect to do in the garden with a mug of tea or glass of wine on a sunny day

2. Grow plants that are great nectar sources for butterflies. Nectar is flight fuel for butterflies - they need it to keep mobile, find mates and, for females, to lay eggs

3. Leave a small patch or strip of grass to grow long. This will provide potential breeding habitat for butterflies such as Speckled Wood, whose caterpillars eat grasses. A mini-meadow can directly contribute to the next generation of butterflies.

So, on the next warm and sunny day between now and August 6, get out in the garden or into an open space and help to monitor our butterfly population.