Searching for something positive and cheerful to write about wildlife can be as difficult as retrieving a golf ball from a nettle-bed.

Wildlife stories often involve species decline due to factors such as habitat loss, indiscriminate pesticide use and disease. But fear not, dear reader, butterflies are putting smiles back on gloomy faces during these cheerless times.

We all like a butterfly and our sun-splashed spring encouraged many to appear earlier than normal, brightening up my local lockdown exercise walks in Sidcup. First came a peacock, with its four blue wing circles surrounded by white borders, on March 18 and it was followed six days later by a butter-coloured brimstone and red admiral.

Wild Things: An essential guide to Britain's birds

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Small Tortoiseshell by Jim Butler

The sunniest April on record brought comma, speckled wood, large white, small white, green-veined white and small tortoiseshell on my walk while holly blue and orange tip explored my garden. Eleven species before the end of April. They all disappeared during a windy spell in May but by mid-June I added painted lady, meadow brown and Essex skipper.

Butterfly Conservation confirmed this bonanza by announcing that 53 of our regular 59 species had been seen in England by the end of May. A ringlet, due around the second week of June, was spotted on May 24 while the white-letter hairstreak appeared 13 days early on May 29. White admiral and silver-washed fritillary were reported on May 30, two weeks early.

This comes after the best butterfly year since 1997. Dr Dan Hoare of Butterfly Conservation says in 2019 volunteers recorded ringlet numbers up 23 per cent, red admiral 195 per cent, meadow brown 38 per cent and marbled white 66 per cent. The migratory painted lady provided the biggest gain, up an incredible 1,993 per cent.

Wild Things: An encounter with an elusive local resident

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Comma by Jim Butler

Record your sightings at There’s an identification guide at

The good news couldn’t last. Rare brown hairstreak butterflies are threatened by development at the world-renowned Hutchinson's Bank reserve near Croydon. Croydon Council intend removing blackthorn bushes, where females lay eggs, and the ash tree habitat of this red-listed and protected species . Join local schoolchildren in sending protest letters to Croydon Council at