Sir David Attenborough has spoken of the mental health benefits of watching butterflies as he urged the public to take part in the world’s biggest butterfly survey over the next three weeks.
The UK’s butterflies are basking in the best summer conditions for more than a decade with hot sunny weather enabling widespread species to fly, feed and breed.
The Big Butterfly Count launches today and Butterfly Conservation President Sir David said that taking part not only generates important data on butterflies but also provides participants with precious time out from the stresses of life.
Research has indicated that spending time in nature, for example watching wildlife, can have positive benefits for mental health and wellbeing.
Sir David explained: “I have been privileged to have witnessed some truly breath-taking wildlife spectacles in far-flung locations but some of my most memorable experiences have happened when I’ve been simply sitting and watching the wildlife that lives where I do.
“A few precious moments spent watching a stunning Red Admiral or Peacock butterfly feeding amongst the flowers in my garden never fails to bring me great pleasure.
“Spending time with nature offers us all precious breathing space away from the stresses and strains of modern life, it enables us to experience joy and wonder, to slow down and to appreciate the wildlife that lives side-by-side with us.”
Butterfly Conservation is being supported by mental health charity Mind to champion the benefits of spending time in nature.
Stephen Buckley, Head of Information at Mind, said: “We’re delighted to see that Butterfly Conservation is promoting the mental health benefits of getting outdoors. At Mind, we have found that being in nature can have a powerful, grounding effect, with research indicating that it can help alleviate mental health problems like depression and anxiety.
“The Big Butterfly Count is a wonderful way of interacting with the environment so we really welcome the project and would encourage people to look at the tips and ideas on our website for even more ways to bring nature into our lives.”
The UK’s Big Butterfly Count is the world’s largest butterfly survey, which encourages people to spot and record 17 species of common butterflies and two day-flying moths during three weeks of high summer.
So far this year the UK has experienced the perfect combination of a cold winter and warm, settled late spring and summer enabling spring butterflies to thrive.
Species such as Holly Blue, the common whites, Red Admiral and Common Blue could all be in for a bumper Big Butterfly Count.
But if the hot weather develops into a drought the consequences could be catastrophic for butterflies as plants wither away and the next generation of butterfly caterpillars starve to death. Butterfly populations collapsed for this reason after the 1976 drought.
The Big Butterfly Count is sponsored by B&Q. Helena Feltham, People Director at B&Q, said: “We know B&Q customers love connecting with nature in their gardens, and garden wildlife and greenery is good for all of us, in so many different ways.
“Though gardens in the UK are changing, every outdoor space, no matter its size, can deliver benefits for wildlife. As part of our ongoing commitment to the nature of gardens, we’ll be encouraging B&Q colleagues and customers alike to get outside, connect with nature and spot as many butterflies as they can during the Big Butterfly Count.”
More than three-quarters of the UK’s butterflies have declined in the last 40 years with some common species, such as the Small Tortoiseshell, suffering significant slumps.
Sir David added: “A cause for great concern over recent years is that many of our once common and widespread species like the Large White, Small Copper and Gatekeeper have started to struggle, mirroring the declines of rarer species. Butterfly Conservation has also revealed that butterflies are declining faster in our towns and cities than in the countryside.
“So please take part in the Big Butterfly Count this summer, we need to know now, more than ever before just what is happening to butterflies in our towns, in our gardens and in our countryside. Your records can help us gather vital information that may help protect them in the future.
“Get out for the Big Butterfly Count, it’s good for them and it’s good for you.”
The Count runs from 20 July to 12 August. Taking part in the Count is easy - find a sunny spot anywhere in the UK and spend 15 minutes counting the butterflies you see and then submit sightings online at www.bigbutterflycount.org or via the free Big Butterfly Count app.
The Big Butterfly Count is being launched at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) London Wetland Centre.
WWT Chief Executive Martin Spray CBE said: “We are very excited to host the annual launch of the butterfly count. What else signals summer like seeing a butterfly flit past you? By encouraging families to note down their encounters, experts can better monitor and protect different species. As a must-do fun outdoor activity, we’ll be handing out spotter sheets at all our wetland centres across the UK.”