Big Butterfly Count: Millions of painted ladies predicted to descend on UK during once-in-a-decade phenomenon

Chris Packham is urging wildlife lovers across Sussex to take part in the Big Butterfly Count to help reveal if the UK is experiencing a once in a decade butterfly phenomenon.

Painted lady (Picture: Jaco Costerus)
Painted lady (Picture: Jaco Costerus)

Unusually high numbers of painted lady butterflies have been reported across Europe over the spring and early summer, with large numbers now spotted crossing over into the UK.

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Around 150 sightings have already been reported across East and West Sussex, including 68 butterflies seen along the coast from Bognor Regis to Camber Sands, with sightings in Worthing, Brighton, Eastbourne and Hastings.

Painted lady (Picture: Jaco Costerus)

The butterfly has also been seen in Haywards Heath, Horsham and Crawley – and more than 40 painted lady butterflies have been recorded near Steyning.

The butterfly is a common immigrant that migrates in varying numbers from the Continent to the UK each summer, where its caterpillars feed on thistles. But around once every ten years the UK experiences a painted lady ‘summer’ when millions of the butterflies arrive en masse.

Butterfly Conservation Vice-president and wildlife broadcaster, Chris Packham, is calling on nature lovers to take part in the Big Butterfly Count over the next three weeks to help reveal if we are experiencing a painted lady year. The last mass immigration took place in 2009 when around 11 million painted ladies descended widely across the UK.

Chris said: “The painted lady migration is one of the wonders of the natural world. Travelling up to 1km in the sky and at speeds of up to 30 miles per hour these seemingly fragile creatures migrate hundreds of miles to reach our shores each year.

Chris Packham

“This butterfly undertakes an extraordinary 7,500-mile round trip from tropical Africa to the Arctic Circle every year – almost double the length of the famous migrations of the Monarch butterfly in North America.

“Signs across Europe are looking very promising, meaning that 2019 could be a very good year for the painted lady with high numbers already being recorded across parts of the UK.

“The butterfly can turn up anywhere so please take part in the Big Butterfly Count and look out for them – you could be witnessing a once in a decade butterfly phenomenon.”

People are encouraged to take part in their gardens, a nearby park or while out walking the dog, but they can also get involved by attending a Butterfly Conservation event.

Guided butterfly walks are taking place at the Bevendean Down Local Nature Reserve in Brighton on Sunday

Taking part in the count helps butterflies but it also has benefits for those doing the counting. Research has revealed that watching wildlife and spending time in nature can have positive benefits for mental health and wellbeing.

Chris added: “The mental health benefits of spending time outdoors watching nature have been blindingly obvious to me for as long as I can remember. Immersing yourself in nature, even if it’s just for a few short minutes, changes your perspective, it helps you slow down and notice what’s going on around you and it opens a door to the overlooked beauty and drama of our natural world.”

Butterfly Conservation is being supported by mental health charity Mind to champion the benefits of spending time in nature.

Rachel Boyd, Head of Content Information at Mind, said: “Being outdoors in green environments can help us deal with negative feelings and experiences like depression. Noticing our environment, observing interesting and beautiful things, and being more aware of the world around us can boost our wellbeing and self-esteem. That’s why we’re pleased to see initiatives like the Big Butterfly Count offer opportunities for us to take time out and engage with our natural surroundings.”

The Big Butterfly Count is sponsored by B&Q. The GoodHome report, commissioned by B&Q and carried out by the Happiness Research Institute, also urges people to get green fingered.

The report looks at the impact of our homes on our overall happiness and wellbeing and found that no matter where people live access to green space makes a big difference to happiness levels, highlighting that we are significantly unhappier without it. Having access to some sort of green space like a garden or balcony is universally important.

The Big Butterfly Count, celebrating its tenth birthday this year, is the world’s largest butterfly survey. Participants are encouraged to spot and record 17 species of common butterfly, including the painted lady, and two day-flying moths in the UK during three weeks of high summer.

Last year more than 100,000 people counted over one million butterflies in total during the count.

Steve Guy, Market Director Outdoor, B&Q said: “B&Q is delighted to once again sponsor the Big Butterfly Count. We want to help everyone support nature and attract wildlife into their gardens and outdoor spaces. Whether you have a hanging basket, window box, planter or a flowerbed, no space is too small to plant a nectar source to attract butterflies and other insects.

“Getting outside, creating a space for wildlife and connecting with nature is good for children and adults alike, we encourage everyone to get involved, plant some nectar sources for pollinators and join in the Big Butterfly Count 2019.”

The count runs from today (July 19) to August 11. Taking part in the count is easy – find a sunny spot anywhere in the UK and spend 15 minutes counting the butterflies you see and then submit sightings online at or via the free Big Butterfly Count app.