How to get involved with the Big Butterfly Count

The Big Butterfly Count is a nationwide survey designed to help Butterfly Conservation assess the health of our environment. Butterflies are excellent indicators as they react very quickly to changes in their environment. This means that butterfly declines can be an early warning for other wildlife losses.


Sir David Attenborough is the president of the Butterfly Conservation charity and is among the many celebrities who are backing the survey. Sir David is particularly passionate about the event due to the many beneficial properties of butterfly watching and spending time in nature for mental health and wellbeing.

For Sir David, being in nature offers some much-welcomed breathing space from the stresses of modern life.

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Mental health charity Mind says that there are many ways that nature can help to benefit your physical and mental wellbeing, including reducing feelings of stress or anger, improving confidence and self-esteem, and helping to improve your mood.

This wonderful and exciting event is taking place between 20 July and 12 August so there’s still plenty of time to get involved! To take part, simply download the butterfly chart provided and simply choose a bright sunny day to take 15 minutes out of your busy schedule to sit and serenely count how many butterflies grace your presence in this time. You can sit in a park, take a walk through a forest, stroll across a field or even just pop out to your garden.

To submit your sightings, you can send them in online at or by using the free big butterfly count smartphone apps available for iOS and Android.


Common British butterflies

Previous Big Butterfly Count years have helped to give an idea of the most common butterflies living around us. These are the top five most common butterflies in the UK:

1. Brimstone

Being large and lemon-yellow in colour, this butterfly is unmistakeable. These butterflies can be found across England and Wales but are very scarcely seen in Scotland and Northern Ireland. These butterflies are particularly drawn to purple flowers such as thistles.

2. Speckled Wood

This butterfly has dark brown wings speckled with cream dots, a feature distinctive among other brown butterflies in the UK. This species of butterfly has spread to almost all of North England in response to climate change. These butterflies don’t usually visit flowers and instead prefer to feed from honeydew.

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3. Comma

The Comma can be identified by its scalloped orange and brown wings. When its wings are closed, a small silvery comma-shaped marking can be seen. This butterfly can be found all over the UK and breeds right up to central Scotland. Comma butterflies feed from flowers and fallen fruit.

4. Holly Blue

This butterfly is the most common blue butterfly in UK woodlands and gardens. The Holly Blue can often be confused with the widespread Common Blue so look out for any orange dots on the undersides of the wings, a feature only found on the Common Blue. The Holly Blue can be found mainly in the southern half of Britain and are spreading northwards. This butterfly feeds on honeydew.

5. Peacock

These beautiful butterflies are very distinctive with reddish-purple wings and large eye-spot patterns. They can be spotted throughout the UK and have recently colonised in the far north of Scotland. The Peacock butterflies are common garden visitors to plants such as Buddleia in late summer.

Find out more by visiting the Woodland Trust website.

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How to plant a butterfly garden

1. Ditch the pesticides

This doesn’t mean you can’t control pests in your garden but certain pesticides such as malathion, Sevin, and diazinon, will kill butterflies. Going organic and applying the simple principles of ecological plant protection will mean a healthier garden and happier butterflies.

2. Grow native plants

Growing native plants helps to support pollinators like butterflies that have evolved with the local flora. According to , some plants which attract butterflies are Fennel, Globe thistle, Hollyhock, Lavender, Marigold, Purple coneflower, Shasta daisy, and Verbena.

3. Sun, sun, sun!

Butterflies typically only feed and rest in blazing hot sun. Try making your garden more inviting by providing flat rocks, tables or chairs for them to sun on.

4. Create a butterfly ‘puddling pool’.

These gorgeous creatures love to hang out in damp sand or mud where they refresh by drinking water and mineralizing. You can create specific puddling spots for the butterflies by filling shallow dishes with sand and a bit of water and placing them in sunny spots in your garden – just imagine vibrant groups of butterflies chilling by the pool on a hot summer’s day.


Words by Carys Evans. Photo by Emiel Molenaar on Unsplash. Illustration by Becki Clark.