2019: year of the painted lady

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In just three weeks this summer, nearly half a million painted lady butterflies were counted as part of the 10th UK-wide Big Butterfly Count, run by Butterfly Conservation and sponsored by B&Q.

The wildlife charity can confirm that 2019 has been a ‘painted lady year’ – a natural phenomenon that happens about once in a decade, when unusually high numbers of this migratory butterfly arrive in the UK.

Scotland was at the forefront of this spectacle with at least 141,649 painted ladies spotted as part of the survey, making up more than half of all the butterflies counted.

The east coast had a massive influx of the brightly coloured butterflies, particularly along the Firth of Forth, which then dispersed through the central belt and participants in Scotland saw far more painted ladies than people doing the count in England.

On average, 14 painted ladies were seen per count in Scotland this summer, compared to just three per count in England.

It is too early to tell how 2019 compares to the last ‘painted lady year’ in 2009, but the number recorded in this year’s Big Butterfly Count was almost 160 times greater than in the 2018 survey, equating to an increase per count of 7,541 per cent on the year before.

Several other common species have experienced a bumper summer, helped by the fine weather.

Despite this, scientists remain concerned about the small tortoiseshell’s long-term future as this once common and widespread butterfly has declined by 78 per cent across the UK since the 1970s.

The warm weather experienced across the UK this summer should have helped most butterflies, but the common white species all suffered slumps.