big butterfly count

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big butterfly count 2016 results: country by country

Once again big butterfly count was enthusiastically supported by people right across the UK, enabling us to assess the abundance of widespread butterflies in each country separately. And there were some notable differences this year, with butterfly populations in England and Wales faring particularly badly. 

Overall, fewer people took part in big butterfly count 2016 than in the previous year and this was the case in all of the UK countries. However, the number of counts carried out in Northern Ireland and Scotland actually increased year-on-year.

Patterns of abundance

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

England

Northern Ireland

Scotland

Wales

1. Large White

1. Ringlet

1. Green-veined White

1. Large White

2. Small White

2. Green-veined White

2. Ringlet

2. Small White

3. Meadow Brown

3. Meadow Brown

3. Small White

3. Gatekeeper

4. Gatekeeper

4. Six-spot Burnet

4. Meadow Brown

4. Meadow Brown

5. Red Admiral

5. Small White

5. Speckled Wood

5. Red Admiral

6. Ringlet

6. Small Tortoiseshell

6. Small Tortoiseshell

6. Green-veined White

7. Peacock

7. Common Blue

7. Six-spot Burnet

7. Peacock

8. Green-veined White

8. Large White

8. Large White

8. Small Tortoiseshell

9. Small Tortoiseshell

9. Speckled Wood

9. Common Blue

9. Ringlet

10. Marbled White

10. Red Admiral

10. Red Admiral

10. Speckled Wood

England

Most big butterfly count participants live in England so the species trends for England typically resemble the overall UK results. The average number of individual butterflies spotted per count decreased by 9% compared with 2015 to reach its lowest level (12.5 per count) since big butterfly count began. This paucity of butterflies was something of a suprise as the summer of 2016 was warmer, drier and more sunny than average in England - conditions that often lead to an upturn in butterfly numbers.

The Gatekeeper, which had been the most abundant species in England during the 2015 count, decreased by 40% and dropped to 4th place. Other big declines were recorded for Peacock (42% down on last year), Small Tortoiseshell (48% down), Comma (45% down) and Holly Blue (48% down). Red Admiral recorded the greatest year-on-year increase in England, with numbers up 73% in summer 2016, to reach its highest levels since big butterfly count 2011.

Northern Ireland

Many big butterfly count species bounced back in Northern Ireland in 2016 after the terrible summer in 2015. Participants saw an average of 11 individual butterflies per count, a big improvement on just eight per count in 2015. However, although the Northern Irish results bucked the wider UK-trend, it was not a vintage summer for butterflies in the province – many species were seen in lower numbers than in 2013 and 2014.

In Northern Ireland the Ringlet was, once again, the most commonly seen butterfly, up 12% in comparison to last year but it was the common white butterflies that really stole the show. The Green-veined White proved to be the most abundant of these and its population increased by 184% in comparison to last year. The Large White saw its numbers rise by 109% and Small White also experienced an increase of 77%.

But one common species, the Small Tortoiseshell struggled with numbers falling 55% in comparison to last summer. The Small Tortoiseshell has now decreased almost six-fold over three years in Northern Ireland, falling from an average of three per count in the summer of 2013 to only 0.5 per count  this summer. The scarce Holly Blue also dropped back after a particularly good year in 2015.

Scotland

Butterfly numbers remained at a low ebb in Scotland but the common white species bucked the trend. The majority of species studied as part of big butterfly count saw their Scottish populations rise this summer in comparison to 2015, but most were still below the counts in previous years.

The Green-veined White proved to be the most abundant Scottish butterfly, with numbers up by 452% in comparison to last year. The Small White saw its numbers rise by 150% and the Large White also experienced an increase of 114%.

The Speckled Wood, which has become much more widespread in Scotland over recent decades, enjoyed a good summer. The butterfly’s numbers were up by 106% compared with 2015 to reach its highest levels in Scotland since big butterfly count began.

Scottish participants saw an average of just eight butterflies per count this summer, slightly up on last year but well below the 11 per count spotted in 2013.

Species such as the Ringlet, Meadow Brown, Small Tortoiseshell and Red Admiral all struggled with numbers falling in comparison to 2015. Interestingly, Scotland was the only UK country where Red Admiral numbers decreased year-on-year.

Wales

More big butterfly count species decreased in Wales this year than in any other UK country. Widespread species such as the Ringlet (61% down), Meadow Brown (48% down), Small Tortoiseshell (40% down), Comma (64% down), Peacock (24% down), Small Copper (33% down,) and Gatekeeper (32% down) all struggled in Wales, with numbers falling in comparison to last year.

Numbers of the colourful Peacock have now dropped in Wales from an average of 1.6 individuals per count in 2014 to just 0.5 per Count in 2016, more than a three-fold decrease in two years.

In Wales, only a few species bucked the general negative trend and recorded good summers. The Large White was the most abundant species in Wales during the Count with its population up by 85% compared to last summer. The Green-veined White saw numbers rise by 134% and the Small White was up by 107%. The Red Admiral also had a good summer with its abundance up by 66% year on year in Wales to reach the top five for the first time.

 

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