Help conserve our dwindling butterfly numbers by taking part in survey

A Peacock butterfy on buddleja.
A Peacock butterfy on buddleja.
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The Big Butterfly Count ends tomorrow), so you just have time to take part – you have until the end of the month to submit your figures.

It’s vital that we keep account of butterfly numbers every year, especially during these times of extreme weather.

A Cabbage White autterfly on buddleja. Picture by RHS

A Cabbage White autterfly on buddleja. Picture by RHS

It will only take 15 minutes and will help Butterfly Conservation to assess the health of the environment. Since its launch in 2010, it has become the world’s biggest survey of butterflies.

In 2017, 62,547 counts were submitted by more than 60,400 participants, a 64 per cent increase in the number of counts and a 66 per cent increase in the number of people taking part compared with 2016.

That was the good news – now the bad. July and August 2017 were dominated by unsettled weather and above average rainfall, after six months (January-June) of above average temperatures, which encouraged butterflies to emerge early.

Despite 550,000 individual insects of the 20 target species being spotted, the average number of individuals seen per 15-minute count was the lowest recorded since the project began.

A Tortoiseshell butterfly on buddleja.

A Tortoiseshell butterfly on buddleja.

The average number of individual butterflies per count has decreased each year since 2013 when more than twice as many butterflies were seen per count compared with 2017.

Butterflies react very quickly to change in their environment which makes them excellent biodiversity indicators.

Your count can be done anywhere: from parks and gardens to fields and forests.

If you are counting from a fixed position, count the maximum number of each species that you can see at a single time.

For example, if you see three Red Admirals together on a bush then record it as three, but if you only see one at a time then record it as one (even if you saw one on several occasions).

If you are doing your count on a walk, simply total up the number of each butterfly species that you see during the 15 minutes. You can download an identification chart to help you.

Even if you don’t see any butterflies or moths, your account is still vital.

Send in your sightings online at or by using the free Big Butterfly Count smartphone apps available for iOS and Android.


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On a dry sunny day, collect seeds of herbs such as dill, fennel, caraway and chervil and dry in a warm spot out of direct sunlight. Chervil must be sown immediately.

Pinks and carnations can be propagated by layering. Propagate irises by dividing the rhizomes if not done last month.

Rock garden plants, such as Helianthemum, Aubrieta and Dianthus can be propagated from cuttings now.

Keep picking flowers from the cutting garden to encourage more flower buds to form and open.

Mid- to late August is a good time of the year to apply biological controls for vine weevil. Grubs will be starting to hatch and soil temperatures are now suitable for the nematodes to be effective. Target vulnerable plants such as Rhododendron, Camellia and container plants including Fuchsias.

Black spot on roses is very common at this time of year, and spraying will no longer be effective. Clear fallen leaves and burn them to prevent spread.

Start harvesting your maincrop potatoes as the leaves yellow and die back. Try storing your potatoes in hessian sacks which exclude light but allow adequate ventilation.

Sweetcorn is ready when you can pop a kernel with your thumbnail and juices are milky.

Keep an eye out for potato and tomato blight and remove and destroy any affected plants to prevent its spread.

Summer prune apple and pear trees to encourage more fruiting spurs. Put grease bands on fruit trees to catch wingless winter moths.