big butterfly count

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Big Butterfly Count 2012 results: country by country

The most common species tend to be similar in each UK country, although some don’t occur in every country. However, there are some interesting variations.

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


Northern Ireland



1. Meadow Brown 1. Ringlet 1. Ringlet 1. Meadow Brown
2. Gatekeeper 2. Green-veined White 2. Meadow Brown 2. Small White
3. Ringlet 3. Meadow Brown 3. Six-spot Burnet 3. Ringlet
4. Small White 4. Small White 4. Small Tortoiseshell 4. Gatekeeper
5. Large White 5. Small Tortoiseshell 5. Green-veined White 5. Large White
6. Six-spot Burnet 6. Large White 6. Small White 6. Green-veined White
7. Marbled White 7. Six-spot Burnet 7. Common Blue 7. Six-spot Burnet
8. Large Skipper 8. Speckled Wood 8. Large White 8. Small Tortoiseshell
9. Red Admiral 9. Common Blue 9. Speckled Wood 9. Large Skipper
10. Green-veined White 10. Wall 10. Red Admiral 10. Speckled Wood


Dismal summer across UK

The country trends followed the overall UK pattern of change very closely. In each country a clear majority of the 21 target species declined this summer when compared with last year's Big Butterfly Count. In England, 71% of species declined in 2012, in Northern Ireland the proportion was 82%, Scotland 68% and in Wales 76%. The Large White and Small White did badly in all four countries, as did the Red Admiral and Common Blue. Interestingly, the latter fared much worse in England and Wales (decreasing by over 50% year on year in both countries), where it is mainly double-brooded than in Northern Ireland and Scotland where the butterfly is mostly single-brooded. It seems that the first generation of Common Blue in southern parts of the UK, which is on the wing in late sping/early summer, suffered very badly due to the poor weather this year, leading to much lower population numbers in the second (summer) generation (which is monitored by Big Butterfly Count). In northern areas, the single generation of Common Blue (which flies in July and August when the weather wasn't quite as bad) is the offspring of butterflies that were around in 2011 and thus not affected by this year's awful weather.

The Small Tortoiseshell did badly in all four countries, although it maintained the north v south difference that has been seen in previous Big Butterfly Counts. Fewer Small Tortoiseshells were seen per Count in England and Wales (particularly in England) than in Northern Ireland and Scotland.

Grassland butterflies thrive

As in the overall (UK-wide) results, it was the butterflies of the open, long-grass habitats which had the greatest success in each country. For the first time, a grassland species (with caterpillars that eat long grasses) was in top position in each UK country. The Ringlet did extremely well. It increased by 397%, 80%, 155% and 152% over last year in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales respectively, moving into top spot for Big Butterfly Count 2012 in Northern Ireland and Scotland and into third place in both England and Wales. The Meadow Brown, which occupies similar habitats to the Ringlet, also did very well, particularly in England and Wales (207% and 67% increases over 2011 respectively) but showed little change in Scotland or Northern Ireland.

The success of these species may have been down to the lush growth of grasses in this wet year, providing ample food for caterpillars, or it may simply be that their flight periods coincided with better weather. Both species occur in open grasslands, whereas other brown butterflies such as the Gatekeeper and Specked Wood, whose caterpillars also feed on grasses but which occur more in hedgerow and woodland habitats, did not fare so well. In fact, these two species tended to decrease compared with the summer of 2011.

The Six-spot Burnet was another winner in 2012. Counts of this spectacular day-flying moth went up dramatically in England, Scotland and Wales (although strangely it decreased in Northern Ireland) and the species made it up to third place in the Scottish chart - the highest position for a moth since Big Butterfly Count started.

Record levels of participation

Butterfly lovers and moth enthusiasts were out in force for Big Butterfly Count 2012 with over 25,000 people taking part. A fantastic effort by each and every one of you. Special mentions must go to the Counters in Northern Ireland and Scotland, who achieved big increases in the numbers of completed counts this year. Over 1000 Counts were done in Scotland, for the first time ever and counts in Northern Ireland increased by one third over 2011! Also a special mention and lots of thanks to Big Butterfly Counters in the Channel Islands, who got involved in the Count for the first time this year.

Butterflies and moths don't recognise human borders so the involvement of people right across the UK is absolutely vital to ensure the success of the Big Butterfly Count and our ability to track the changing fortunes of our beautiful butterflies and moths.

Thanks to you all!

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