big butterfly count

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big butterfly count 2015 results: country by country

People all over the UK took part in big butterfly count 2015, from the Isles of Scilly to Shetland, the Suffolk coast to the far west of County Fermanagh. Most of the UK’s human population lives in England so not surprisingly the vast majority (over 90%) of big butterfly counts were carried out in England. The number of counts undertaken in England in 2015 showed a substantial increase (18% up) on 2014. Participation was also up in Wales, with a 9% increase in the number of submitted counts, but fell in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

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. We are very grateful to everyone who took part!

Overall, the average number of butterflies and moths (of the 20 big butterfly count target species) seen per count dropped in 2015 compared with 2014. This reduction was most noticeable in Northern Ireland (41% decrease) and Scotland (37% decrease), with more modest declines in Wales (18%) and England (8%). This meant that in Northern Ireland, the average number of individual butterflies seen per count fell from 14 in 2014 to just 8 this summer. In Scotland, an average of only 7 individuals was seen per 15 minute count this year. Presumably the weather played a big part in these trend. Summer 2015 was generally cool and wet compared with the long-term UK average, but Northern Ireland and Scotland were particularly hard hit, especially in July, relative to England and Wales.

Patterns of abundance

Because most of the counts were undertaken in England, the species results for England closely match those for the UK as a whole. However, thanks to people who took part in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, we can see interesting differences and similarities in how butterflies fared across the UK during the summer of 2015.

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


Northern Ireland



1. Gatekeeper

1. Ringlet

1. Ringlet

1. Meadow Brown

2. Large White

2. Meadow Brown

2. Meadow Brown

2. Gatekeeper

3. Small White

3. Small Tortoiseshell

3. Small Tortoiseshell

3. Ringlet

4. Meadow Brown

4. Green-veined White

4. Six-spot Burnet

4. Large White

5. Peacock

5. Small White

5. Small White

5. Small White

6. Small Tortoiseshell

6. Six-spot Burnet

6. Common Blue

6. Small Tortoiseshell

7. Ringlet

7. Speckled Wood

7. Green-veined White

7. Peacock

8. Red Admiral

8. Common Blue

8. Speckled Wood

8. Red Admiral

9. Comma

9. Large White

9. Red Admiral

9. Six-spot Burnet

10. Common Blue

10. Painted Lady

10. Large White

10. Speckled Wood


All change (again) at the top

In big butterfly count 2013, the ‘whites’ dominated the top positions, while in 2014 the colourful Nymphalids (particularly the Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell) stole the show. This year, it’s the turn of the ‘browns’, which took the top spot in each the UK nations.

Ringlet did particularly well, being the most abundant species counted in Northern Ireland and Scotland this summer. Its numbers doubled compared with last year in both these countries, as well as in Wales. Its relatives, Gatekeeper and Meadow Brown took the top spots in England and Wales respectively. Gatekeeper numbers were up in England but remained very stable in Wales for the third year in succession.

Large White showed one of the biggest annual increases in England (51% up on 2014), but it decreased considerably in each of the other three countries (37% down in Wales, 71% down in Northern Ireland and 78% down in Scotland).

In the north, Green-veined White was one of the main casualties. This is the most widespread white butterfly in the north, but numbers in Northern Ireland and Scotland decreased by around 80% on last year.

Things were even worse for the Peacock, which after an amazing summer in 2014, collapsed by 98% in Northern Ireland and 97% in Scotland. Having been the second most abundant butterfly in Scotland in big butterfly count 2014, it didn’t even make the top 10 this year. Losses in England and Wales weren’t quite as bad, but Peacock numbers decreased by 61% in both countries compared with 2014.


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