15 July 2022

Big Butterfly Count

Ode to Psyche

Silver-washed Fritillary

In Greek folklore the soul was pictured as a butterfly. In classical mythology Psyche (which is Greek for Soul) was a princess of outstanding beauty who aroused Venus’ jealousy and Cupid’s love. Psyche was portrayed as having butterfly wings and Aristotle gave the butterfly the name psyche. Many cultures relate butterflies to the human soul. 


Butterflies are an important part of our culture, for various reasons. The Russian Ballerina, Anna Pavlova, said this:  When a small child, I thought that success spelled happiness. I was wrong, happiness is like a butterfly which appears and delights us for one brief moment, but soon flits away. 

Chalkhill Blue (m)

Dolly Parton, not known as a Ballerina, had this to say:

Love is like a butterfly
As soft and gentle as a sigh 
The multicolored moods of love are like its satin wings 
Love makes your heart feel strange inside 
It flutters like soft wings in flight 
Love is like a butterfly, a rare and gentle thing 

Green Hairstreak

And John Keats, not generally known as a Ballerina nor as a Bluegrass singer, offered this in his Ode to Psyche:

O latest born and loveliest vision far
Of all Olympus' faded hierarchy! 
Fairer than Phoebe's sapphire-region'd star, 
Or Vesper, amorous glow-worm of the sky;

Which, as it was his first attempt at Ode-ing, just goes to show that the more you practise the better you get.....

And also that anyone can have an opinion about butterflies - and it won't make a blind bit of difference.....


So, I hear you complain, why bang on about them? Well, today is the first day of The Big Butterfly Count, which is a nationwide citizen science survey aimed at helping us assess the health of our environment. It was launched in 2010 and has rapidly become the world's biggest survey of butterflies. Over 107,000 citizen scientists took part in 2021, submitting 152,039 counts of butterflies and day-flying moths from across the UK.

According to Butterfly Conservation, We count butterflies because not only are they beautiful creatures to be around but they are also extremely important. They are vital parts of the ecosystem as both pollinators and components of the food chain. However, they are under threat. Numbers of butterflies and moths in the UK have decreased significantly since the 1970s. This is a warning that cannot be ignored.

Butterfly declines are also an early warning for other wildlife losses. Butterflies are key biodiversity indicators for scientists as they react very quickly to changes in their environment. Therefore, if their numbers are falling, then nature is in trouble. So tracking numbers of butterflies is crucial in the fight to conserve our natural world. That's why taking part in this massive citizen science enterprise is of great importance not just for our butterflies but for the wider environment and biodiversity in general.

Small White

The Butterfly Conservation website tells us that butterflies are highly sensitive indicators of the health of the environment and play crucial roles in the food chain as well as being pollinators of plants.

  • The UK has 58 species of butterflies – 56 resident species of butterflies and two regular migrants – the Painted Lady and Clouded Yellow.

Clouded Yellow

  • The State of the UK’s Butterflies 2015 report found that 76% of the UK’s resident and regular migrant butterflies declined in abundance, occurrence or both over the last four decades.

Small Tortoiseshell

The report concludes:  Butterflies are culturally important [too], as demonstrated by their frequent appearances in art and literature through the ages. Their beauty and graceful movement are pleasing to the human eye and their metamorphosis, from caterpillar to butterfly, is widely used as a cultural symbol of spiritual growth, progress and making a new start. 

Perhaps the Conservative party could bear this in mind?


Butterflies conjure up images of sunshine, the warmth and colour of flowery meadows, and summer gardens teaming with life. Sadly, four butterflies became extinct during the last 150 years and three-quarters of British butterflies are in decline.


Habitats have been destroyed on a massive scale, and now patterns of climate and weather are shifting unpredictably in response to pollution of the atmosphere but the disappearance of these beautiful creatures is more serious than just a loss of colour in the countryside. 

Conserving butterflies will improve our whole environment for wildlife and enrich the lives of people now and in the future.

Red Admiral

I have been out and about with my camera recently in the Norfolk countryside (with the exception of three of these photos they were all taken not far from my current home this year: the Clouded Yellow, the Small Tortoiseshell and the Brimstone were taken in Hertfordshire before we moved).  It's a delight to follow these jerkily flighted insects in their short lives, and it is great when they pause for a moment to recharge their solar batteries.

Chalkhill Blue

Just the other day I was at Warham Camp, near Holkham, photographing these little blue fellows (above) when two enthusiasts came past hurriedly, calling excitedly out Clouded Yellow! and inviting me to follow.  I didn't manage to see that one, but their enjoyment of the chase was infectious. 

Chalkhill Blue

I have no pretensions to be a lepidopterist, nor an expert, but I take an interest in my surroundings and in the health of the world about us all.

Meadow Brown and Ringlet

I recently visited Foxley Wood, a Norfolk Wildlife Trust reserve, on the trail of the White Admiral.  On the way I caught site of large Silverwashed Fritillaries, Commas, and this little one:

Speckled Wood

And then, fleetingly, I caught sight of my target, flashing amongst the leaves.  He didn't pose, and I struggled to focus, but in the end I captured something of his soul:

White Admiral

And then, just for good measure, he turned and showed his underside as well.....


So, today was the first day of Big Butterfly Count, and I checked my garden this morning in the sunshine for fifteen minutes, counting several Small Whites, a Gatekeeper, two Peacocks, a Small Tortoiseshell and a Comma.

I shall have fifteen minute counts in different locations in the next weeks (it is open until August 7th) and log the findings on the App on my phone.

Join me!  

Small Skipper

These little, short-lived but beautiful creatures may seem fragile, and insignificant, but don't underestimate the shadow they can cast......

Now I'm just off to see my Psychiatrist....

With thanks to Adrian M. Riley for his invaluable book, British and Irish Butterflies

(available from www.bramblebybooks.co.uk)

and for his help in identifying some variants.

1 comment:

  1. Big Butterfly Count: your photos are as usual wonderful and enriching