Butterflies have emerged early this year, thanks to the sunniest May on record

Lisa Walden
Photo credit: Irene Becker Photography - Getty Images

From Country Living

Butterflies have been emerging early across the UK, thanks to the sunniest May on record, the Butterfly Conservation has found.

The wildlife charity had spotted 53 of the UK's 59 resident and regular migrant butterfly species by the end of May — the first time that so many have been seen by the end of spring in 100 years.

These butterfly sightings, recorded by members of the public, show some particularly early dates for various species. The first Ringlet butterfly, for example, was reported on 24th May, but would not normally be seen before 8th June, while the White-letter Hairstreak was spotted on 29th May but typically doesn't appear until 11th June.

Elsewhere, the Silver-washed Fritillary and White Admiral were both seen on 30th May, two weeks earlier than usual. The rare Large Blue, successfully reintroduced to Britain in the 1980s, made its earliest ever appearance this year.

Photo credit: Iain H Leach/The Butterfly Conservation

"Over the past 20 years, we've typically received reports of 39 species by the end of May, so 53 this year is amazing. Last year, for example, only 43 butterflies had put in an appearance by this point and the only other year to come close to the current total was in 2011, when 50 species had started to emerge by 31 May," Dr Richard Fox, Associate Director of Recording and Research at the charity Butterfly Conservation, says.

While the warm weather has been good news for the beautiful butterflies, there are some fears over certain species not surviving climate change.

Richard adds: "Butterflies are able to adjust their emergence dates to suit the vagaries of the UK weather, indeed they need to do so to remain in sync with the plants that their caterpillars need to feed on.

"However, the trend towards earlier emergence of butterflies and moths in Britain over recent decades in response to climate change isn't necessarily beneficial. Recent research shows that emerging earlier leads to larger populations of species that have more than one generation each year. In such species, the earlier emergence of the first generation leads to greater abundance in the second brood.

"However, for species that only have one generation each year, this positive effect on numbers was not found. Indeed, for some, more specialised species, there was a negative impact – earlier emergence led to reduce population size."

This news comes ahead of Butterfly Conservation's Big Butterfly Count, the largest citizen science project in the UK.

"This year will be particularly interesting. We will be looking to see if species that emerged early and have their second generation during the Count do particularly well, and whether single-generation species, such as Marbled White, are still about in July for all of our Big Butterfly Count participants to record," adds Richard.

The Big Butterfly Count runs between 17th July and 9th August. For the first time, Chris Packham will also be supporting the campaign, encouraging Brits to hunt for butterflies.

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