Our Wild Things columnist Eric Brown explains how in just 15 minutes you can make a significant contribution to wildlife knowledge by recording butterfly sightings.

DURING the July heatwave, I was sitting in my garden at about 6pm when what seemed to be a large, colourful butterfly flashed past too quickly to identify.

Luckily it landed low down on a holly bush, giving me time to amble over and establish it wasn't a butterfly at all but a fantastic garden tiger moth. These large insects often have yellow lines criss-crossing dark bodies with splashes of crimson near the head to confuse hungry birds attempting to eat them. No two garden tiger moths are exactly alike.

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They are supposed to fly only at night so maybe this one had been disturbed from its resting place by a bird or other predator.

It started me thinking about butterflies and Iconcluded the evidence of my own eyes suggested it hadn't been a particularly good year so far for this declining species.

If my garden is typical then I expect results of the national Big Butterfly Count to show a marked downturn in sightings again this year.

All seemed well with an invasion of holly blues which started visiting the garden almost daily from late April. Other regular visitors included both small and large whites which always seem to be in such a hurry. Orange-tip, green-veined white and small tortoiseshell turned up in open parkland nearby and I was delighted to discover a small tortoiseshell on my house wall on March 18.


But most of these seemed to be one-off visitors, here today and gone tomorrow. Wet weather intervened and butterflies stopped coming. So attention turned to the wider countryside where I recorded red admiral, brimstone, painted lady and comma. Visits to a Sussex heath added ringlet, small heath and half a dozen large skippers.

It wasn't until mid-June that I saw butterflies in any numbers with the emergence of multiple meadow browns.

Butterfly species have suffered several poor years as common species decline. Last year produced the worst Big Butterfly Count on record, with the lowest ever number of butterflies and moths recorded, despite record numbers of participants.

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On average, people counted nine butterflies or moths per count, which is down from 11 in 2020, and down again from 16 in 2019.

You can help establish this year's numbers by taking part in the Big Butterfly Count, spending just 15 minutes recording all the butterflies you see in one place up to the August 7 deadline.

For details of how to download a great butterfly ID chart and submit your entries, visit bigbutterflycount.butterfly-conservation.org

I just hope my tiger moth reappears so I can list it.