Butterfly count continues worrying trend despite warm and dry summer

Habitats are disappearing while climate change is having a detrimental impact on many species, says wildlife charity

The absence of butterflies despite a warm summer is concerning, according to a conservation expert.

The UK’s wildlife charity Butterfly Conservation has noted a decrease in the number of butterflies since it first began to count them 13 years ago.

The Big Butterfly Count was carried out in Northern Ireland between July 15th and August 7th.

A total of 1,257 counts were carried out in Northern Ireland during the event while across the UK as a whole, participants spent a combined total of over 2½ years counting butterflies in their gardens, local parks and in the countryside.


In the Republic there is no Big Butterfly Count. Instead there is a full season Butterfly Monitoring Scheme which runs from April to October every year, with counts carried out once a week. Early indications suggest that numbers will not be good for some species.

Conditions at the start of the season were very difficult with cool wet conditions in April and May, though the summer was generally fine and dry after that.

In the North, there were fewer than nine butterflies seen per count. While this is an increase on last year, it still remains low compared with many previous years in the 13-year history of the citizen science project.

Butterfly Conservation head of science Dr Richard Fox said: “We might have expected this summer to have been a better one for butterflies given warmer and drier weather in Northern Ireland.

“The fact that more butterflies weren’t seen is concerning and it’s clear that much more needs to be done to protect and restore habitats to aid nature recovery. The sun could shine for days on end, but we still won’t see more butterflies unless there is habitat for them to thrive in.”

Butterfly Conservation senior surveys officer Dr Zoë Randle said the loss of habitat included the conversion of many back gardens into housing and the replacement of lawns with artificial lawns. Habitats for butterflies are disappearing while climate change is having a detrimental impact on many species.

The Ringlet was the most spotted butterfly in Northern Ireland during the Big Butterfly Count this year. This species showed an increase of 147 per cent compared with last year, which is very different from the overall UK trend, and might be explained by this year’s flight period of this butterfly in Northern Ireland coinciding with the Big Butterfly Count dates.

Peacock and Red Admiral also seem to have fared better in Northern Ireland compared with the UK overall. This is welcome news as both of these species did poorly in Northern Ireland in the Big Butterfly Count 2021.

Both the Holly Blue and the Common Blue species fared well in the 2022 Big Butterfly Count. The Holly Blue is a species that is spreading across Northern Ireland and this year showed an increase of 184 per cent compared with 2021 numbers.

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times