The washout summer of 2012 was a “disaster” for butterflies, Sir David Attenborough said as he called on the public to help assess if species were recovering from their worst year on record.
Butterflies were hit by last summer’s cold, wet weather, which reduces their lifespans and hampers mating and egg-laying, and this year the coldest spring for 50 years delayed their emergence by about three weeks.
The weather-related problems come on the back of long-term declines in many species, leaving UK butterfly numbers at historic lows in gardens and the countryside, Butterfly Conservation said.
But with a warm, sunny July boosting conditions for the insects, the public is being urged to take part in the wildlife charity’s annual Big Butterfly Count to record species to help monitor how they are faring.
Sir David, president of Butterfly Conservation, said: “The washout weather of 2012 proved a disaster for our butterflies; these conditions, coupled with long-term declines, means there are probably fewer butterflies in the UK than at any point during my lifetime.
“Butterflies are vitally important. Their presence acts as a barometer of the health of our environment. Their ongoing decline tells us that all is not well in the British countryside. Future generations may not be lucky enough to see butterflies in the same numbers we will experience this summer.
“But it is not too late. You can help ensure that butterflies still bring that sense of magic to our summertime by taking part in the Big Butterfly Count.
“The count will tell us if butterflies are recovering after a terrible year, and it lets us know how they are faring in our back gardens, parks, fields, towns and cities.”
He added that the count also “brings us face-to-face with Britain’s wildlife stars living right under our noses”.
Butterfly Conservation is running the annual Big Butterfly Count from 20 July to 11 August, and is urging the public to take 15 minutes in a sunny place to count all the butterflies they can see, and then submit their sightings online or via a free app.
Last year the public counted more than 220,000 butterflies, revealing that 15 of 21 species had declined compared to 2011.