Belfast Telegraph

Butterfly numbers fall due to coldest August in more than 20 years

By Linda Stewart

Butterfly numbers have dropped in Northern Ireland this summer following the coldest August in more than 20 years.

The world's biggest butterfly count recorded a decrease in abundance in all species of butterfly compared with last year's tally, according to Butterfly Conservation.

However, it was a good year for the spectacular peacock butterfly, which rose by 244% in Northern Ireland compared to the 2013 Big Butterfly Count, pushing it into fourth place for the first time.

And the chart was dominated by the common white butterflies which took two of the top three places, with the green-veined white topping the poll and the small white taking third place.

Meanwhile, the small tortoiseshell took second place in the tally, which was carried out by a host of butterfly lovers across the UK this summer.

Despite a warm July, August was the coldest for more than 20 years, according to the Met Office.

This drop in temperature had a knock-on effect on the majority of the UK's common summer butterflies, curtailing the flight period of some species and hastening others into early hibernation, Butterfly Conservation said.

Across the UK, the average number of individual butterflies seen per count dropped from 23 in 2013 to 15 in 2014. In all, 15 out of 21 of the target species decreased compared with 2013. In Northern Ireland, the red admiral had a successful summer and was up 28% on 2013. But grass-feeding butterflies struggled, with the ringlet down 60%.

Nearly 45,000 people took part in this year's Big Butterfly Count, spotting almost 560,000 butterflies during the three-week recording period.

Butterfly Conservation surveys manager Richard Fox said: "After a good summer in 2013, the big question this year was whether butterflies would continue to recover and build up even greater numbers or slip back again.

"Thanks to a record-breaking number of counts carried out by the public in Northern Ireland, we know that the answer was a real mixture. The peacock had a good year in 2013 and this seems to have acted as a springboard for the species, enabling it to increase massively again this summer.

"Others held their ground, but sadly, many common butterflies appear to have sunk back from last year's peak in numbers."

Results can be found at www.bigbutterflycount.org.

Factfile

Big Butterfly Count 2014 – top 10 Northern Ireland species ranking:

Green-veined white 2,427

Small tortoiseshell 1,576

Small white 988

Peacock 753

Ringlet 727

Meadow brown 603

Large white 507

Six-spot burnet 421

Red admiral 489

Speckled wood 280

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