Count the butterflies in your garden during lockdown to help track climate change

Butterfly Conservation is urging people to submit their sightings during lockdown to help track climate change.

By Charlie Bullough
Friday, 1st May 2020, 6:00 am
A peacock butterfly on blossom. Picture: Tony Johnson.
A peacock butterfly on blossom. Picture: Tony Johnson.

The call for the public to record species like brimstone and holly blue this spring is being made because the nature charity’s dedicated band of wildlife watchers can’t get to their usual patches because of freedom of movement restrictions.

The public is being implored to become citizen scientists and to record the butterflies they see in their garden.

Richard Fox, Butterfly Conservation’s associate director recording and research, said: “Studying the changing flight times and locations of butterfly species across the UK is vital to understanding the impacts of climate change on our native wildlife.”

Butterfly Conservation is urging people to send in sightings during lockdown.

The study of the timing of natural events is known as phenology, which is a key indicator of the effects of climate change in the UK.

Mr Fox added: “This spring we are going to have a gap in our phenology data as our scientists and volunteers are not able to carry out their usual monitoring at nature reserves and across the UK countryside.

“So, we are asking the general public to please help us out. This is something you can do for science and climate change in your own back garden.

“We know that climate change is making butterflies emerge earlier in spring and some are spreading to new parts of the UK. We need you to tell us where and when you saw them.”

New studies by the University of York, in collaboration with Butterfly Conservation and other partners, have shed some light on how butterflies and moths are responding to climate change. But there are still many unanswered questions and changing trends.

Butterflies have tended to fly earlier in the year and even produced more generations each year. But recent research suggests that an earlier start benefits some species but is harmful for others.

Mr Fox added: “Keep a look-out in your garden for butterflies such as the brimstone, comma, speckled wood, holly blue and orange-tip. We want your records, and to know when you saw them on the wing.

“If you live in certain areas, particularly in Northern England and in Scotland, we’re particularly interested in your observations as all of these butterflies are spreading northwards, colonising areas where they didn’t occur previously. The comma, for example, has spread hundreds of miles northwards since the 1970s.”

The conservationist said a recent sighting of a comma in Fife was the first one a volunteer had seen there in 60 years.

Mr Fox added: “Monitoring the changing distributions of butterflies is important to understanding the effects of climate change on our environment. We know that for some species climate change has helped to boost numbers, while for others it has had an adverse effect, but there’s still so much to learn.

‘You never know what you might see. There has even been a scattering of painted lady butterfly sightings across the country recently. This species is a migrant from warmer parts of Europe, which normally arrives at the end of May or early June.

‘We can’t gather data in our usual ways this spring, so we need the help of everyone who is at home, with a garden or outdoor space, during the lockdown period. Each recording is important for our work to conserve UK butterflies and we would love the public to get behind us.”

To submit a recording visit