Sir David Attenborough Wants You To Count Butterflies, So Get Out And Do It!

Two Adonis blue butterflies (Polyommatus bellargus) perch on an oxeye daisy, showing the dramatic coloring and pattern on the top and underside of their wings. Martin Fowler/Shutterstock

Naturalist, media sensation, and living legend David Attenborough is encouraging the people of the United Kingdom to assist in a citizen science project, so drop what you’re doing and listen up.

The annual Big Butterfly Count, aimed at assessing the current state of the British Isles’ fluttering insects, is taking place until August 12 and participation by anyone and everyone is welcomed.


To contribute to the survey, run by the non-profit organization Butterfly Conservation, all you need to do is spend 15 minutes outside, preferably during bright sunny weather, take note of how many different butterflies and daytime moths you see and submit the information online or through a special app. Not such a terrible task.

"I'm asking people turn their mind away from squabbles and problems about what's facing us with Brexit, sit in a quiet place where the Sun is shining and see how many butterflies come,” Sir David told BBC Radio 4's Today program, reports BBC News.


A visual guide to the different species is available on the project's home page, or right here

Though the project directly studies only lepidopterans, the results will help researchers gauge the overall health of UK ecosystems. As Butterfly Conservation so eloquently states: “[b]utterflies react very quickly to change in their environment which makes them excellent biodiversity indicators. Butterfly declines are an early warning for other wildlife losses.


“The count will also assist us in identifying trends in species that will help us plan how to protect butterflies from extinction, as well as understand the effect of climate change on wildlife.”

Because butterflies rely on specific plants as their primary food source during both larval and adult lifecycle phases and as the site for egg deposits, reductions in vegetation caused by periods of high temperatures and drought will immediately impact an area’s populations. For this reason, declines in butterflies are often the first sign that climate change is on course to significantly alter an ecosystem.

According to a 2015 report by the organization, 76 percent of the UK’s 59 regular and migrant butterfly species have declined in abundance, occurrence, or both over the past four decades due to “unprecedented environmental change”. Five species have gone extinct in the last 150 years.

Initiated in 2010, the Big Butterfly Count is now the largest butterfly survey in the world. In 2017, more than 60,000 people contributed, submitting 62,500 observations. The count is conducted at this time of year because most butterflies and diurnal moths are currently in their adult, winged phase, and are thus easier to see and to distinguish from one another.


Finally, if Attenborough’s encouragement is not enough motivation for you, Absolutely Fabulous icon Joanna Lumley is also a huge supporter.


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  • Lepidoptera