Joanna Lumley counts on butterflies

Actress and wildlife enthusiast Joanna Lumley explains why she’s supporting this year’s Big Butterfly Count and what she’s doing to encourage these pretty insects into her own garden

Saturday, 6th July 2013, 10:00 am
Joanna Lumley

She’s banged the drum for the Gurkhas, she’s the ambassador for an initiative to combat climate change and waste - but most recently, actress and keen gardener Joanna Lumley has turned her attentions to the plight of the butterfly.

Backing this year’s Big Butterfly Count, the world’s biggest survey of butterflies organised by Butterfly Conservation and Marks & Spencer, Lumley explains: “I’ve been fascinated by butterflies ever since being brought up in the Far East where they were, like many things there, huge, bright and extraordinary.

“The great heartbreak is to see how few there are today. Looking out on my garden now, and walking up and down it as I do every day, I’m not seeing any.

“This huge, scientific survey is counting the effect of mankind upon the natural world.”

The public is being asked to take 15 minutes to participate in the count, which runs from July 20 to August 11 (prime time for butterfly activity), to help identify trends in species that will aid us in planning how to protect butterflies from extinction, as well as understanding the effect of climate change on wildlife.

Butterflies react quickly to change in their environment which makes them biodiversity indicators. Butterfly declines are an early warning for other wildlife losses.

Almost three-quarters of UK butterfly species have decreased in population during the last decade, while the number of UK’s larger moths has crashed in the past 40 years, according to a recent reports by a group of leading conservation organisations.

“The predictions are that numbers will be down again this year,” says Butterfly Conservation surveys manager Richard Fox.

“As butterflies had such a bad year last year because of the wet weather, it’s likely that fewer offspring will emerge.

“The Small Tortoiseshell has had eight bad years in a row and has declined by 74% since 1976.

“The weather last year would have been a major contributing factor but there are other things going on. They need suitable habitats.”

This year’s cold spring should not have affected numbers because cold snaps tend to happen when butterflies are dormant, so the insects come out later, he explains.

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