big butterfly count

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big butterfly count 2017 results: country by country

big butterfly count 2017 was the most successful since the project began in 2010. The number of counts submitted increased in all of the UK countries (and in the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man) and the total number of participants increased in all countries except Northern Ireland.

However, the average number of butterflies seen per count decreased overall in 2017 compared to the previous year. The decreases were strongest in Scotland (21% down) and Northern Ireland (14% down), but the average abundance was also down in England (11%) and Wales (4%) relative to big butterfly count 2016. These were the lowest average abundance per count figures since big butterfly count began in England, Scotland and Wales, and the second worst in Northern Ireland.

Patterns of abundance

The Top 10 most abundant species in each UK country in 2017 were as follows:

England

Northern Ireland

Scotland

Wales

1. Gatekeeper

1. Small White

1. Small White

1. Red Admiral

2. Red Admiral

2. Large White

2. Green-veined White

2. Small White

3. Meadow Brown

3. Green-veined White

3. Ringlet

3. Large White

4. Large White

4. Red Admiral

4. Small Tortoiseshell

4. Meadow Brown

5. Small White

5. Meadow Brown

5. Meadow Brown

5. Gatekeeper

6. Peacock

6. Ringlet

6. Large White

6. Peacock

7. Comma

7. Speckled Wood

7. Red Admiral

7. Speckled Wood

8. Small Tortoiseshell

8. Six-spot Burnet

8. Six-spot Burnet

8. Green-veined White

9. Common Blue

9. Small Tortoiseshell

9. Speckled Wood

9. Comma

10. Speckled Wood

10. Common Blue

10. Common Blue

10. Small Tortoiseshell

England

The vast majority of big butterfly counts each year are carried out in England (87% in 2017) so the species trends for England closely resemble the overall UK results. The average number of individual butterflies spotted per count was just 11 in 2017 (11% down on last year’s Count), its lowest level since big butterfly count began. This may have been in part due to the disappointing summer weather (many parts of England had much higher than average rainfall, especially in July) but may also have been due to several species that often occur in large numbers, such as Ringlet, Meadow Brown and Marbled White, emerging early this year so that their populations were already past their peak when the Count started.

The Gatekeeper, returned to the top spot as the most abundant species in England during the 2017 count, after falling to 4th place last year. Its numbers were up 28% on 2016 but remained below the abundance recorded in 2015, when it last topped the big butterfly count chart. The Red Admiral had a very good year, increasing by 73% for the second year running; Red Admiral numbers have increased threefold since 2015. The Comma, Common Blue and Small Copper all bounced back from a poor year in 2016, but only to levels similar to those seen in 2015.

The whites were the clear losers among the target species in big butterfly count 2017. The Large White decreased by 40% on 2016, while the Small White and Green-veined White both dropped by 39%. Other substantial declines in England during the 2017 Count, such as those of Ringlet and Marbled White, probably do not reflect genuine population decreases in the year as a whole, rather the effect of their flight periods happening earlier in the year (due to a warm spring) and, therefore, numbers being on the wane when the Count took place.

Northern Ireland

Ringlet was knocked off the top spot in Northern Ireland in 2017, with the common whites taking the top three places and Ringlet dropping down to sixth. The Large White and Small White bucked the decreases recorded elsewhere during big butterfly count 2017 and increased strongly in Northern Ireland compared with 2016. Green-veined White didn’t follow the pattern and was 31% down on last year (although still twice as abundant as it had been in 2015’s Count).

The Red Admiral did really well in the Province, as in England, but the Peacock which showed no change compared with 2016 in England, showed a big increase in Northern Ireland and produced its best result since 2014. The Speckled Wood also did very well, increasing 68% on 2016 and achieving its greatest abundance in Northern Ireland since big butterfly count began.

The Comma and Holly Blue, both of which are scarce in Northern Ireland, both seemed to have a better year than 2016.

Scotland

Butterfly numbers during big butterfly count 2017 reached a new low in Scotland with just six individuals of the 20 target species being seen on average per count, down from 8 per count in 2016. However, there was some good news and species faring well included the Red Admiral, which increased fourfold on 2016, the Peacock (up 89% on 2016) and the Comma, all of which and reached their highest levels in Scotland since big butterfly count 2014. The Comma has spread rapidly northwards through Scotland since the turn of the century.

The Speckled Wood, on the other hand, which has also become much more widespread in Scotland over recent decades, fell back on the large increase recording in 2016. It was down 35% on 2016, but still above the levels recorded in 2015 and 2014. The other ‘browns’ did poorly too, with Meadow Brown down 44% and Ringlet by 54% year-on-year. Small Copper numbers were also down in Scotland (by 47% compared with 2016), which was the opposite of the trend recorded in the three other UK countries.

There was a mixed picture for the ‘whites’, with the Large White and Small White increasing slightly (by 12% and 13% respectively), but Green-veined White numbers tumbling (54% decrease on 2016). Small Tortoiseshell numbers held level with 2016 and more were seen on average per count than in England or Wales.

Wales

The Red Admiral stole the show in Wales, increasing by 78% compared with 2016, and finishing in top position. This is the first time since big butterfly count began in 2010 that Red Admiral has been the most abundant species in any UK country!

Although it was undoubtedly a good year for Red Admiral in Wales, its rise to the top was helped by decreases in abundance among all of the species that usually dominate counts there, including the Large White (top in 2016) and Meadow Brown (top in 2015) both of which decreased by 28% compared with 2016. Interestingly, the Gatekeeper fared badly in Wales (35% down on 2016), in contrast to the increase of 28% in its numbers in England.

As in England, the Comma and Small Copper both recovered from a bad year in 2016, and the Peacock improved too, although it is still well below the levels seen in the summer of 2014.

Of all the UK countries, Wales had the smallest decrease in the average total number of individual butterflies seen per count in 2017, down a mere 4% compared with double-digit declines elsewhere.

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