Saturday 16 September 2023

Butterfly Numbers Up?! Can Such Things Be?

 I'm still reeling from yesterday's announcement by Butterfly Conservation that UK butterfly numbers , as counted in the annual Big Butterfly Count, are ...  [drumroll] UP! I'm reeling for two reasons. One is that I was expecting dire news following a notably cool and wet summer – but then I should be used to Butterfly Conservation's figures confounding my own experience, usually in the opposite direction: the great butterfly season I experienced turns out to have been terrible after all. Which bring me to the second reason for my reeling condition: this was the first time in some years that Butterfly Conservation has actually put a positive spin on its survey results. They know what the Narrative is, and that the usual story of doom and gloom is what the media want to hear and what will get the publicity – and, presumably, encourage conservation efforts, which is fine.
I must have written about the annual announcement many times over the years, and have always pointed out that the actual picture is never simple, whatever the headlines. Some butterfly species are doing well, others not so well, but overall more are increasing in numbers than decreasing, and that has been the case for some years now. Even the population trends since 1976 (a spectacular butterfly year) show that 22 of the 57 species monitored have increased in numbers. Over a shorter span the trends are much more heartening, as this latest Big Butterfly Count shows: of the 20 most-spotted butterflies, only three registered a decline year on year and since 2010 – and one of these, bizarrely, was the Speckled Wood, which in my experience has become so abundant as to be, in effect, the 'default butterfly', from spring to autumn. The six other species that have declined since 2010 were all up year on year. So yes, it was indeed a good butterfly summer overall, at least in terms of numbers flying when BC's volunteers went butterfly-spotting for 15 minutes on one of the rare sunny days between July 14th and August 6th this year. Let's hope there is more good news, and less of the narrative of decline, in the years to come. 

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