BUTTERFLIES are among our most beautiful summer visitors – and the only insects that we universally love to welcome to our gardens (unless you grow cabbages, perhaps).
But how well do you know the most common species? We have become so removed from daily contact with the countryside that many of us are unfamiliar with all but the most iconic or instantly recognisable, like the peacock, small tortoiseshell or painted lady.
It doesn’t help that they flit about so quickly that it can be hard to study them closely, though Butterfly Conservation have produced a handy series of spotters’ guides as part of their ongoing Big Butterfly Count, as featured on our Nature Guides page.
Britain has about 56 species in total, with about three dozen in the Chilterns, as captured in a colourful charity wallchart by members of the Chesham Wildlife group.
With many families exploring their local lanes and footpaths during lockdown, there’s been an upsurge of interest in the natural world, and TV programmes like Springwatch have helped spread the word – along with enthusiastic young naturalists like Rebecca’s Butterfly Farm on Twitter and Youtube.
Habitat loss is a major problem for many butterfly series, especially specialists like the marsh fritillary which can be extremely fussy, and if their food plant or habitat becomes scarce, so do they.
Some specialists, such as the high brown and pearl-bordered fritillaries, are near to extinction in Britain, while other wider countryside species have also declined in areas where agricultural activities have turned much of the countryside into an ecological desert.
Although many factors have contributed to butterfly decline – a changing climate, pesticides and habitat loss – some species have increased in abundance, so it’s certainly not all bad news.
More than 72,000 citizen scientists have been taking part in the annual butterfly count, with a million butterflies spotted – the top five being the large white, small white, gatekeeper, peacock and meadow brown.
But did you immediately recognise the species featured on this page? From the top they were: a gatekeeper at Stoke Common, a peacock at Woolman’s Wood, a silver-washed fritillary at Black Park and a cinnabar moth caterpillar at Stoke Common…