Gotta Count ’em All – Butterfly Bonanza

Over the past few weeks, we have been getting out and doing some volunteering.  Being self-employed ecologists racing across the globe back and forth from NZ to the UK and the UK to NZ, we spend a lot of our time chasing paid work. This doesn’t give us much time to volunteer. Saying that, if we have gaps in the diary, or come across a really interesting opportunity, we make it happen.

A good friend of mine, Jamie O’Connell (a zoologist and traveller, much like myself), recently asked if Emma and I would like to join in on a butterfly survey with Somerset Wildlife Trust. The lead surveyor for the transect we were about to walk was none other than Jamie’s mother, wildlife enthusiast and butterfly advocate, Patricia O’Connell.

Below you can see the habitat the transect covered. We walked through woodland and open grasslands, and counted as we went.

Over a few visits, we have spotted and counted a large variety of British native butterfly species, as well as some migrants. Of these, I managed to photograph a good selection of them. The images below have been separated into their different Families.


Hover over or click on the images for I.D.

Lycaenidae (Gossamer-wing Butterflies)

Lycaenidae is the second-largest family of butterflies (behind Nymphalidae), with over 6,000 species worldwide. The species below in the brown argus (Aricia agestis).


Hesperiidae (Skippers)

Of the Hesperiidae family, there are 3500 recognised species. The species below include; dingy skipper (Erynnis tages), small skipper (Thymelicus sylvestris), large skipper (Ochlodes sylvanus) and grizzled skipper (Pyrgus malvae).


Nymphalidae (Brush-footed butterflies)

Nymphalidae is the largest family of butterflies with about 6,000 species distributed throughout most of the world. These butterflies are interestingly also know as the four-legged butterflies as the front two legs are often curled up, while standing n their back four legs. The species below include; red admiral (Vanessa atalanta) [Migrant], speckled wood (Pararge aegeria), ringlet (Aphantopus hyperantus), silver-washed fritillary (Argynnis paphia), small pearl-bordered fritillary (Boloria selene), small heath (Coenonympha pamphilus), meadow brown (Maniola jurtina), marbled white (Melanargia galathea) and the small tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae).


The State of Britain’s Butterflies

Butterfly Conservation (an organisation working to conserve butterflies, moths and the environment) and its partners publish a ‘state of the nation’ assessment of the UK’s butterflies. This was last published in 2015. The publication draws from numerous recording and monitoring schemes and highlights the implications of recent research and policy initiatives. It then makes recommendations for UK butterflies conservation.

A few of the key findings:


  • There is a serious, long-term and ongoing decline in UK butterflies, with 70% of species declining in occurrence and 57% declining in abundance.
  • Overall, 76% of the UK’s resident and regular migrant butterfly species declined in either abundance or occurrence over the past four decades.


Of the species photographed, the grizzled skipper and dingy skipper are all listed as priority species in the UK Biodiversity Action plan 2007.

Pyrgus malvae [GRIZZLED SKIPPER] England, Cheddar 27.06.2017

Threats Facing British Butterflies

The notable declines in butterflies across the UK are directly linked to environmental change. Habitat destruction/modification, changes in farming practices, and climate change are the big drivers for these declines, which are all driven by human actions.

Four butterflies and over 60 moths have become extinct during the last 150 years. This is terribly sad. The challenges that lie ahead for butterflies and other British wildlife are enormous.

Ochlodes sylvanus [LARGE SKIPPER] England, Cheddar 27.06.2017

What You Can Do

You are already on the right track if you have found a few minutes to read this blog. You will now have an understanding of the plight of the butterflies and (if you didn’t feel this way already) that protecting the natural environment should be high on our priority list.

Next, get in that garden of yours and plant some nectar rich flowering plants which butterflies need to feed. Try to keep the flowering plants in blocks so that there is plenty to feed on when the butterflies have honed in on them.

You can also volunteer with your local wildlife trust or other wildlife charity like we did or just speak to your friends about how wonderful these guys really are and share your new found knowledge.


Why Butterflies and Moths are Important

If your still not sure why butterflies and moths matter, click the link below:

Argynnis paphia [SILVER-WASHED FRATILARY] England, Cheddar 27.06.2017

References and Further Reading

British Butterflies Website – (Retrieved 29 June, 2017)

Butterfly Conservation Website, Comprehensive list of British butterfly species – (Retrieved 29 June, 2017)

Butterfly Conservation Website – (Retrieved 29 June, 2017)

Butterfly Conservation Website, List of priority species – (Retrieved 29 June, 2017)

Somerset Wildlife Trust Website – (Retrieved 29 June, 2017)

UK Butterfly Website, Comprehensive ID Chart – (Retrieved 29 June, 2017)

UK Butterfly Website – (Retrieved 29 June, 2017)

Wikipedia Wesbite, Hesperiidae – (Retrieved 29 June, 2017)

Wikipedia Website, Lycaenidae – (Retrieved 29 June, 2017)

Wikipedia Website, Nymphalidae – (Retrieved 29 June, 2017)


7 Comments Add yours

  1. Pete Hillman says:

    These are a fabulous set of images! Well done for making folk aware of their plight! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you very much, Pete! It was a great experience. In the couple of surveys we’ve attended, I’ve learnt more about British butterflies than I ever knew! Such little treasures 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Pete Hillman says:

        Little treasures indeed. And irreplaceable! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you, Pat, for taking us out! 🙂 🙂 🙂


  3. sara says:

    Fine work guys – amazed you found so many – obviously there’s been some good habitat enhancement being done there. Wonderful photographs as usual! X

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank so much, Sara! Yes, it was lovely habitat – Wildflowers gone wild 😀 The land is protected and managed by Somerset Wildlife Trust. They’re doing a great job! xxx


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