It’s been the best summer for butterflies for more than 15 years, with one endangered species in the region enjoying a massive 388% increase in numbers over the past 12 months. The good news comes from a specialist Westcountry-based charity which has just published the findings of its annual Big Butterfly Count.
Butterfly Conservation says the hot summer has helped the frail creatures bounce back after a string of poor years. The warm, sunny spells of July and August in particular helped significantly boost numbers after 2012’s washout summer. Overall, four times as many butterflies were recorded this summer, with a record-breaking 46,000 people counting more than 830,000 butterflies and day-flying moths across the UK over a three-week period.
The charity’s field officer Richard Fox, who lives in Devon, said: “The small tortoiseshell has, for me, been the stand-out species – we saw more this summer than we have in many years. Its numbers have declined by a massive three-quarters since the 1970s, so it’s been fantastic to see so many this year. The small tortoiseshell is up 388% compared to last year – a very welcome improvement. I’ve seen half a dozen at a time in my Newton Abbot garden and over in Dorset, at our headquarters near Lulworth, I counted 86 in one lunchtime.”
Nationally, the peacock butterfly out-performed even the small tortoiseshell with numbers increasing by more than 3,500% compared to the dismal and damp 2012 count.
Of the 21 species the Big Butterfly Count focuses on, 15 increased their numbers compared to last year, and 12 saw numbers up by at least 50%.
However, some species saw numbers decrease after doing well last year, including ringlet and marbled white, meadow brown and six-spot burnet moths. Mr Fox said the four species all have a single generation each year, and so low numbers could be the result of last year’s poor breeding season.
But we can all help the butterflies, said Mr Fox. “One of the problems is that our houses are cool at this time of year relative to the outside,” he said. “We’ve got the windows open and the butterflies think: ‘This is a perfect place to hibernate’. The problem is that in midwinter, when we put our heating on, it’s much too warm, so they emerge prematurely and that’s bad news. If you finding butterflies resting in a room that’s going to be heated, best put them outside. Put a glass over it and gently slide a bit of cardboard underneath. Then transfer it to an unheated garage or shed.”