big butterfly count 2011 results: habitats

Different habitats provide different resources for butterflies and moths. Some species are restricted to particular habitats such as woodland, heathland or flower-rich grassland, but many common species are more adaptable. They will make use of farmland, road verges and gardens, even in urban areas, to find nectar for food and plants for their caterpillars to eat.

Where did you count butterflies?

As in 2010, most people carried out their big butterfly count in gardens. 65% of counts took place in gardens in 2011, with 13% in fields and 11% in ‘other rural’ habitats. Only small proportions of counts were undertaken in other places such as woods, parks, school grounds and ‘other urban’ habitats.

The proportions of counts in particular habitats were very similar between 2010 and 2011 except for school grounds. Eight times more counts were submitted from schools this year! This was helped, no doubt, by The Butterfly Effect educational campaign aimed at primary schools, and we hope to have even more schools taking part in 2012.

Where were the most butterflies and moths seen?

As most people took part in the count in their gardens, it is not surprising that most of the butterflies and moths counted were seen in gardens. Although gardens might be the most popular and convenient places to undertake a big butterfly count, they are not the most productive in terms of the number of butterflies and moths seen.

Garden counts recorded an average of 9 individual butterflies/moths of the 21 big butterfly count target species, whereas 24 individuals were recorded on average in counts in fields and 21 individuals per count in both ‘other rural’ habitats and woods.

The Small White, Large White, Red Admiral, Gatekeeper and Peacock were the most common species seen in gardens.

Some species were equally common in all habitats (e.g. Large White, Peacock), but others were more likely to be seen in particular areas. The Speckled Wood, for example, was much more common, unsurprisingly, in woodlands than in gardens or other habitats, and both the Meadow Brown and Ringlet were particularly poor in gardens compared to the high numbers seen in fields, woods and other rural habitats. The Gatekeeper followed a similar pattern, but was three times as common in gardens as the Meadow Brown and ten times as common in gardens as the Ringlet.

Gardens are important too

Perhaps not surprisingly, habitats in the countryside had a higher total abundance of butterflies and moths, because they are the main breeding areas for most species. Gardens also attracted large numbers of these beautiful creatures and importantly, these are the places where we are most likely to encounter them. Gardens provide breeding habitat to some species and important food resources (nectar from flowers) for many more.

Thank You!

Wherever you did your big butterfly count in 2011, in garden, park, field, wood, school playing field or nature reserve, many thanks for taking part. Please join in big butterfly count 2012 (14th July – 5th August 2012) to help us take the pulse of nature once again.

View Big Butterfly Count website