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UK Butterfly Populations Reach Highest Levels Since 2019

Conservationists report that butterfly populations in the UK have rebounded to their highest levels since 2019, based on research conducted by the Butterfly Conservation wildlife charity. Between July 14th and August 6th, more than 1.5 million butterflies and day-flying moths were recorded.

The red admiral butterfly emerged as the most commonly spotted species in the UK, with 248,077 sightings recorded during the charity’s research. However, long-term trend data reveals that many species have experienced significant declines since the count began 13 years ago.

Dr. Zoe Randle, emphasizing the significance of butterflies as indicators of a healthy environment, noted that these insects have benefited from the mixed weather conditions in 2023. The summer, characterized by a combination of rain and hot days, led to lush vegetation that caterpillars could feed on. The red admiral, in particular, thrived, showing a 338% increase in its count compared to the previous year. This butterfly species is adapting to climate change and is now thriving in the UK, despite its usual habitat being the Mediterranean coast or North Africa.

Volunteers across the country contributed data to measure butterfly abundance and the distribution of different species. Dr. Randle commended the public’s increased engagement in this year’s research, with higher participation and more counts conducted across all UK countries.

Conservationists attribute the improvement in butterfly populations to the wetter weather in 2023, with an average of 12 butterflies recorded per count compared to nine during the prolonged periods of drought and heat in 2022.

The gatekeeper butterfly followed the red admiral as the second most frequently observed species, with 222,896 sightings, marking a 12% increase from the previous year. However, long-term data indicates a 28% decline in this species since 2010.

White butterflies, including large whites (216,666 sightings) and small whites (190,506 sightings), ranked third and fourth in the list. Both species saw increases of 11% and 15% compared to the previous year, respectively.

Nevertheless, some species, such as the ringlet, common blue, and speckled wood, have experienced declines both since the previous year and over the long term.

Dr. Richard Fox, Head of Science at Butterfly Conservation, highlighted habitat loss as one of the major threats facing butterflies. He emphasized that butterflies require suitable habitats for feeding, breeding, and shelter to thrive.