big butterfly count

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big butterfly count 2018 results: country by country

2018 was the ninth year of big butterfly count and by far the most successful so far. It smashed all previous records for the number of people taking part both in the UK as a whole and in each of the participating countries. The number of people taking part in England was up 65% on big butterfly count 2017 with even greater increases elsewhere: Northern Ireland up 79%, Scotland up 131%, Wales up 85%, the Isle of Man up 293% and the Channel Islands up 123%. The number of counts undertaken in each country showed similar increases on the previous year.

The number of butterflies was also up in most countries. The exception was in England, where the average number of individuals of the target species seen per count was 11, unchanged from 2017, which was the lowest average abundance since big butterfly count started in 2010. In contrast, the average number of individuals was up 19% in Wales (to 12 per count), up 25% in Northern Ireland (also 12 per count) and up an amazing 70% in Scotland (10 individuals per count).

Patterns of abundance

The Top 10 most abundant species in each UK country in 2018 were as follows:

England

Northern Ireland

Scotland

Wales

1. Small White

1. Green-veined White

1. Small White

1. Small White

2. Large White

2. Peacock

2. Peacock

2. Large White

3. Gatekeeper

3. Small White

3. Large White

3. Gatekeeper

4. Meadow Brown

4. Large White

4. Green-veined White

4. Common Blue

5. Common Blue

5. Six-spot Burnet

5. Small Tortoiseshell

5. Peacock

6. Green-veined White

6. Speckled Wood

6. Red Admiral

6. Red Admiral

7. Peacock

7. Meadow Brown

7. Silver Y

7. Meadow Brown

8. Speckled Wood

8. Small Tortoiseshell

8. Meadow Brown

8. Green-veined White

9. Red Admiral

9. Red Admiral

9. Painted Lady

9. Speckled Wood

10. Comma

10. Common Blue

10. Small Copper

10. Small Tortoiseshell

England

As usual, the England results closely resemble those for big butterfly count as a whole, because the majority of counts (87% in 2018) are undertaken in England. Small White came top in England, for the first time since 2013, with Large White (the winner in 2016) the second most abundant species. Both more than doubled in numbers compared to the same period in 2017. These two species made up just under half of all of the butterflies and moths counted in England for big butterfly count 2018. The Green-veined White also fared well, with numbers up 83% in England. The Gatekeeper, 2017's winner, decreased by 55% and came in third.

The two common blue butterflies did very well in the summer of 2018. Common Blue was up 50% and Holly Blue 127% year on year. The increases of these two species, along with the whites, probably stem from the beneficial effects of the warm spring and early summer on the breeding of the first generation, leading to an abundant second brood, which emerged in time for big butterfly count. The immigrant Silver Y moth was another winner, with three times as many reported as in the same period in 2017. The two other migratory target species, Red Admiral and Painted Lady both declined (by 70% and 13% respectively).

All of the colourful Nymphalid butterflies suffered declines in England. In addition to the Red Admiral and Painted Lady, numbers of Small Tortoiseshell decreased by 40%, Comma by 39% and Peacock by 14%. There was also a consistent pattern of decline across the single-brooded grassland species (Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper, Ringlet, Marbled White and Six-spot Burnet), although this is due, at least in part, to the early emergence of these species in the hot summer of 2018, resulting in their numbers already being past peak abundance before big butterfly count 2018 started.

Northern Ireland

The whites dominated in Northern Ireland, with Green-veined White increasing by 64% to take the top spot. Small White and Large White numbers were similar to summer 2017, but were knocked off the top of the chart by the surge in Green-veined Whites and, more surprisingly, in Peacocks. This beautiful butterfly enjoyed its best summer in Northern Ireland since the big butterfly count began, and was the second most abundant species here in big butterfly count 2018. Eight times as many Peacocks were seen per count in 2018 compared to 2017, which in turn was a major improvement on the very low numbers recorded in the 2015 and 2016 events.

Other big increases were shown by the Small Copper (291% up on 2017), Silver Y (265% up), Six-spot Burnet (88% up) and Common Blue (50% up). In contrast to the situation in England, Small Tortoiseshell numbers remained stable year on year, although Red Admiral showed a substantial decline (44% down) after an excellent summer in 2017.

Overall, the record number of people taking part in Northern Ireland in summer 2018 spotted more of the target species than in recent years. On average, 12 individual butterflies and moths were seen per 15-minute count, compared to 10 in 2017, 11 in 2016 and just 8 in 2015.

Scotland

The Peacock was the big news story in Scotland during big butterfly count 2018. Almost 20 times as many were recorded during the three week survey in summer 2018 compared with the previous year. This pushed the Peacock up to second place overall in Scotland, and was a far cry from the lacklustre numbers recorded in England and Wales. Apart from the Peacock, it was the white butterflies that dominated, taking the other three places in the top four, and all increasing substantially year on year.

Several species bucked the UK trend in Scotland. Red Admiral and Comma, which had declined sharply in all of the other UK countries, both increased, by 35% and 54% respectively. Several big butterfly count 2018 participants in Scotland reported their first ever Comma sightings, as the species continued to extend its range in the country. Small Tortoiseshell numbers were also up in Scotland (by 21% compared with the 2017 count), while sightings were static or declining elsewhere.

Recorders in Scotland also experienced the largest increase in overall numbers of the target species, from just 6 individual insects per count in 2017 to 10 in 2018, an increase of 70%. No doubt inspired by the warm, dry weather, twice as many people took part in the count in Scotland in 2018 than in the preceding year.

Wales

The top of the big butterfly count 2018 chart for Wales was very similar to that in England, with Small White the most abundant species, followed by Large White, both species showing big increases on the same period in 2017, and the Gatekeeper taking third place. Gatekeeper numbers were unchanged in Wales compared with the 2017 count, contrasting with a large decrease in England.

The Common Blue, in fourth place, showed the greatest year on year increase of any big butterfly count species in Wales in 2018. Four times as many Common Blues were recorded than in 2017 and the species had its best showing in Wales of any big butterfly count. The average number seen per count in Wales in 2018 was higher than in any of the other UK countries. The Holly Blue also did well with its numbers up 162% on the summer of 2017, as did Brimstone (80% up) and the Silver Y moth (262% up).

The greatest annual declines in Wales were suffered by the Six-spot Burnet (62% down on 2017), Red Admiral (58% down), Ringlet (51% down) and Comma (32% down). While some of these may be genuine population declines, others may have been unduly influenced by the early emergence of species, meaning that their numbers were already on the wane by the start of big butterfly count. Further analysis will be required to separate out this potential effect, revealing the real underlying change in the fortunes of the species concerned.

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