big butterfly count

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big butterfly count 2016 results

While the long-term trends of butterflies and moths tend to result from human activities such as habitat destruction and climate change, short-term changes, from year to year, butterfly generation to generation, are typically caused by natural factors such as the weather and populations of parasites. So, in cold, wet summers, such as in 2012, butterfly populations often crash, while in good summers, such as 2013, they bounce back.

The results of big butterfly count 2016, however, don't fit this pattern. It was a pretty good summer, with above average temperatures and yet butterflies on the whole fared badly.

The average number of individual insects of the 20 target species seen per 15 minute count during big butterfly count 2016 was the lowest recorded since the project began in 2010! A mere 12.2 individuals per count were recorded, down from 13.4 per count in 2015, 14.7 in 2014 and a whooping 23 per count in 2013.

Despite the general scarcity of butterflies during the 2016 big butterfly count, huge number of people turned out, once again, to help with the world's largest count of butterflies. Altogether, 38,233 counts were submitted, from the Isle of Sheppey to the Isle of Skye and all across the UK, by over 36,400 participants - a fantastic effort!

Summertime blues

Over half of the big butterfly count target species decreased in 2016 compared with the previous year. The 'blues' did badly, with Small Copper recording its lowest numbers since the big butterfly count began and both Common Blue and Holly Blue halved in numbers compared with summer 2015. This was particularly disappointing for Holly Blue, which had an excellent 2015 and numbers in spring 2016 also appeared high.

The stunning Peacock, with its beautiful eye-spot wing markings that can scare off would-be predators such as Blue Tits, decreased for the third summer in a row. Its numbers have now dropped from an average of 3.6 individuals per count in 2013 to just 0.5 per count in 2016, a sixfold decrease over three years. Small Tortoiseshell numbers were down once again too, falling by 47% from 2015 levels, and even the Comma, one of the butterfly success stories of the past few decades, suffered a poor summer. its numbers were down 46% year on year, resulting in its lowest abundance in the seven years of big butterfly count.

It was all change at the top of the big butterfly count chart in 2016, with Gatekeeper, the most abundant species in 2015's count, suffering a 40% decrease and finishing in fourth place. An average of just 1.5 Gatekeepers seen per count in 2016 was the lowest abundance of this species since big butterfly count began.

Bucking the trend

It wasn't all doom and gloom, however. Seven species were counted in greater numbers than during big butterfly count 2015. Red Admiral did particularly well, with its numbers up 70% year on year, the biggest increase of any target species. It had its best big butterfly count since 2011. Another winner was the Green-veined White, up 58% on summer 2015.  It did especially well in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.

One further positive was that the average number of individuals seen per count in big butterfly count 2016, actually increased in Northern Ireland and Scotland compared with the previous year, despite the overall UK average reaching its lowest ebb. Click for more detail about country-level results.

Species results 2016

With the Gatekeeper (2015's winner) dropping down the rankings while populations of the other top species remained largely stable, it was the Large White that took top spot in big butterfly count 2016. Surprisingly, this is the first time that Large White has topped the big butterfly count chart. Small White moved up from fourth position in 2015 to secure second place, while Meadow Brown retained third position.

Ringlet and Marbled White both achieved their second highest rankings since big butterfly count began. The 2016 results for all 20 of the big butterfly count target butterfly and moth species are shown below:


% change from 2015


Large White




Small White




Meadow Brown












Red Admiral








Green-veined White




Small Tortoiseshell




Speckled Wood




Marbled White




Six-spot Burnet




Large Skipper








Common Blue




Painted Lady




Holly Blue








Small Copper




Silver Y



The Top 10 species for England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales can be found here.

The big butterfly count will return again next summer to enable us to identify longer term trends in our butterfly species. With your help, we can make it even bigger and better in 2017.

What you said about big butterfly count 2016

One of the joys of big butterfly count is that not only does it provide valuable information about how our common and widespread species are faring, but it is rewarding and fun to take part in too. Here's what some of the 2016 participants had to say about big butterfly count:

"It is a wonderful idea and it gets me out into nature and feeling that I am playing a small part in helping our world." Mrs. Gervin, Co. Tyrone

"Brilliant idea - so worried there are no butterflies this year." Ms. Richardson, Yorkshire

"3 year old helped in the garden, loved seeing them." Mr. Parsons, Hampshire

"Enjoying the daily dog walk hunt for butterflies!" Ms. Dewhurst, West Lothian

"It is great fun, but sad to see so few." Ms. Grierson, Cornwall

"As ever, we loved taking part, and every time someone passed us by we told them about the count." Ms. Ballagher, Kent

"My mum, older brother (11) & me (8) are having fun spotting different butterflies." Miss Young, Pembrokeshire

"The Big Butterfly Count should be incorporated into a school subject topic, the children love it! Thank you." Ms. Evans, Lincolnshire

"Excellent idea, always good to know our wildlife is being cared for." Mr. Sotheron, Cambridgeshire

More detail

Please remember to look at the interactive map page where you can see all the sightings from 2016's big butterfly count and explore the data by species, date period or habitat type.

Thank you once again for taking part in this year’s big butterfly count, the biggest butterfly event of its kind in the world, and enabling us to assess how butterflies and moths have fared this summer. Make sure you and your friends and family take part in big butterfly bount 2017 (Friday 14 July - Sunday 6 August).

See results for your country

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