Help solve the riddle of back garden butterflies

Peacock Butterfly

Wildlife charity Butterfly Conservation is calling on gardeners to help solve the mystery of the UK’s back garden butterflies.

Long-running studies mean we know more about the UK’s countryside and habitat specialist butterflies than any other insect group in the world with information dating back hundreds of years. But we know very little about the butterflies closest to us – those living in our gardens.

The newly launched Garden Butterfly Survey will attempt to lift the lid on how garden butterflies are faring.

The survey will reveal garden butterfly declines and increases, how they are affected by climate change, what plants they really prefer and the best size and location for a butterfly-friendly garden.

The UK’s estimated 22 million gardens represent an area roughly the size of Somerset, and at a time when butterflies face unprecedented threat, they offer a potentially huge and vitally important habitat.

The Garden Butterfly Survey will encourage participants to count garden butterflies every month of the year as climate change has seen butterfly flight periods change with some species now flying into the winter.

Butterflies that visit gardens have experienced tumultuous change in recent decades. The Wall and Small Copper have suffered widespread declines in the countryside over the last 40 years.

The causes are not fully understood but climate change may be involved alongside other factors.

The warming climate has also seen regular garden visitors such as the Comma, Ringlet and Speckled Wood experience range expansions.

Results from the Garden Butterfly Survey will help determine if butterfly trends in the countryside are echoed across the UK’s back gardens.

Other common garden species such as the Small Tortoiseshell, Red Admiral and gardeners’ scourge, the ‘cabbage white’ – the Small and Large White, have experienced mixed fortunes.

The Small Tortoiseshell has declined rapidly over the last four decades and the Garden Butterfly Survey may reveal if gardens can offer this much-loved species a lifeline.

The spectacular Red Admiral has fared better with this Buddleia-loving butterfly experiencing a growth in population, whereas the population of the colourful Peacock has remained stable over same period.

Butterfly Conservation Head of Recording, Richard Fox said: “We are a nation of gardeners and a nation of wildlife lovers. The Garden Butterfly Survey brings these two abiding passions together to help conserve the UK’s beleaguered butterflies.”

“Butterflies are a beautiful and important part of the UK’s wildlife and our gardens are where they are most often encountered. Despite this, we know very little about how butterflies are faring in our gardens or even how important gardens are as a habitat for them.”

The online survey collects information about the number, species and time of year butterflies are seen as well important details about the UK’s gardens such as size, geography, and plant cover.

To take part in the Garden Butterfly Survey visit www.gardenbutterflysurvey.org