Big Butterfly Count participation numbers dwindle as organisers ask if 'Covid effect' has worn off for nature lovers
The number of people taking part in this year's Big Butterfly County has plummeted, say conservationists, who have been left questioning whether the nation's previously-blossoming love affair with nature may be ending along with pandemic restrictions.
With just a week to go until the nationwide nature survey draws to a close for this year, the number of participants signing-up to track butterfly numbers in their nearest garden or open space is down significantly compared to the previous two years.
More British butterflies are now facing extinction than ever before, which has placed an even greater importance on this year's survey with appeals going out ahead of its launch to try and encourage as many households as possible up and down the country to take part.
Butterfly declines can serve as an early warning for other wildlife losses as the insects react very quickly to changes in their environment so tracking numbers, say experts, is crucial as part of work to protect the natural world as a whole.
But despite a record 150,000 submitted counts last year, numbers so far for 2022 have been disappointing.
Dr Zoe Randle, Senior Surveys Officer at Butterfly Conservation, said: “In 2020 and 2021 we saw a big increase in the number of people taking part in the Big Butterfly Count. During the COVID restrictions people were spending more time at home, and maybe without the day-to-day busyness and distractions, they noticed nature more and were able to enjoy spending more time outside.
"However, since Big Butterfly Count started on July 15, we’ve only had half of the Counts compared with the same time last year. It’s left us wondering whether, now there are no Covid restrictions, are people beginning to forget about nature and the wildlife that needs our help to survive?”
The survey requires people to spend just 15 minutes - ideally in sunny weather - looking for butterflies to help conservationists understand how the creatures are behaving. To take part in the Big Butterfly Count, which ends on August 7, you can visit the website or download the free app.
Butterfly Conservation’s Vice President, the TV presenter and naturalist Chris Packham, is also worried about about the dramatic drop in interest.
He said: "During lockdown many people used the opportunity of having a little bit more time to engage with nature, and many of them found some respite and solace there. Now we are asking people to re-connect and give something back to nature by taking part in the Big Butterfly Count."
And even if people think they won't see as many butterflies - or any at all - that information is equally important.
He added: "A lack of butterflies could also be putting people off taking part this year.Last year was our poorest year ever in terms of the amount of butterflies people were seeing.
"It’s too early to tell if this year will follow suit, but certainly anecdotally we are hearing that people feel there are fewer butterflies around. That might have put people off taking part in the Big Butterfly Count, but it’s equally important for people to tell us that because when it comes to submitting data we need to know where there aren’t these insects as well as where there are.
"Butterflies and moths are important indicators of the wider health of our environment. If they are struggling then so is the rest of the natural world. It is so important people continue to take part in the Big Butterfly Count. If we don’t know what is happening then we can’t deliver good quality conservation."