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The UK sees red

Red admirals take surprising early lead in the 2023 Big Butterfly Count
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
Red Admiral butterfly taking nectar from lilac Buddleia flower

Wildlife charity Butterfly Conservation has revealed a huge surge in sightings of the red admiral, a migrant species of butterfly, as the Big Butterfly Count enters its final week. 

The red admiral is currently flying high with 170,000 sightings reported so far, an impressive increase of 400% on the same period last year. 

It is definitely a ‘red admiral year’, with people throughout the country reporting seeing the butterfly while taking part in Butterfly Conservation’s Big Butterfly Count.

Climate change and UK butterflies

The red admiral is a familiar and popular butterfly across the UK. It is a garden favourite and found in all types of habitat.

However, what may come as a surprise to many is that this small but mighty butterfly is a migrant species, travelling to the UK from North Africa and continental Europe. 

There can be no doubt that climate change is the driver behind a long-term increase in red admiral numbers.

Each spring, and continuing through the summer, red admirals migrate north where the females lay eggs. Consequently, there is an emergence of fresh butterflies from July onwards. 

However, in recent years, scientists are seeing an indication that numbers have increased, and that the species is now overwintering in the UK – particularly in the South of England. 

With temperatures increasing, the red admiral’s need to return to its southerly winter habitat is reducing, which means it is possible we will see a greater number of the species spending the winter in the UK. 

This year’s early results show why the Big Butterfly Count is so important in helping scientists to understand how the weather and changing climate are affecting butterflies. 

‘We’ve been surprised to see the red admiral taking the lead, however with the increased frequency of warm weather, the UK may well become a permanent home for this species. 

‘The results so far show just how vital the Big Butterfly Count is. We couldn’t get the depth and breadth of data we’re collecting without the help of the general public. We’re calling on people across the UK to please get out for the Count and record your butterfly sightings over the next few days.

‘With climate change here to stay, we need people to take part more than ever before and help us understand how extreme weather is affecting our butterflies.’

DR ZOË RANDLE
Senior surveys officer at Butterfly Conservation

Join the Big Butterfly Count!

Butterfly Conservation’s Big Butterfly Count isn’t over yet! So far, citizen scientists across the UK have completed more than 85,000 Counts and recorded over 1 million butterflies and day-flying moths.

The Big Butterfly Count runs until Sunday 06 August and scientists at Butterfly Conservation are keen to see whether the influx of Red Admirals continues, and how they are dispersed around the UK. 

Whether done with friends and family or in a moment of quiet calm and solitude, the Big Butterfly Count is free, fun and takes just 15 minutes.

It is open to anyone, of any age, in any part of the UK – towns, cities or the countryside. No green space is too small – a back garden, a small terrace or balcony with some pot plants, a public park, allotment or country lane are all important spaces to explore, track and report.

For more information and to take part simply visit bigbutterflycount.org or download the free Big Butterfly Count app.

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