Attenborough applauds our hunt for Britain's butterflies

Quest to find endangered treasures of natural world is praised by conservationists and politicians

A A A

Sir David Attenborough and Boris Johnson were among conservationists and politicians who yesterday rushed to support The Independent’s Great British Butterfly Hunt.



We hope to offer some relief from the economic gloom by helping readers to find, watch and delight in the UK’s 58 native butterfly species this summer – at least a dozen of which are at their lowest ever levels.

Mr Johnson said: “The Independent’s Great British Butterfly Hunt is a superb initiative. In London we are blessed with an abundance of green spaces and a wide range of butterflies such as the holly blue and the brimstone. I would encourage people to get out in the sunshine and see how many fantastic varieties they can spot. It is a free, fun afternoon with the family.”

The environmentalist Stanley Johnson, Boris’s father, is working with Natural England to bring the once-populous high brown fritillary – a large, powerful, bracken-loving butterfly – back to Exmoor. “I commend this campaign by The Independent and give it all my support,” said Mr Johnson Snr last night. “Butterflies are so superb.”

Sir David said the excitement of watching the vibrant insects should be tempered with concern about their destruction. “Humanity has encroached upon and degraded so much of the land that the countryside is in severe crisis,” he said. “Pollution, habitat destruction, urban developments and intensive agriculture have all contributed to a great loss in wildlife in both numbers and variety.

“Butterflies, once widespead, have been seriously affected and others have become extinct. They are not just beautiful creatures to observe. They also have a wider value. They give us warnings of environmental dangers. This needs to be the spur for us to stem and reverse this tide.”

The campaign has captured the imagination of the public, with many already posting butterfly sightings on The Independent’s website. One contributor, Gerry Smith, noted: “Last Saturday the peacocks emerged in Herts – several seen in St Albans and Rye Meads. Hello summer!”

Another of the campaign’s supporters is wildlife photographer and filmmaker Simon King, vice-president of The Wildlife Trusts. He said yesterday: “Nature’s calendar is punctuated by mini miracles; the first song of a blackbird in spring or the reedy whistle of a redwing to herald autumn. And if there is one signpost that speaks of summer sun it is the flight of the butterflies. The fragile grace of these ephemeral marvels is perhaps the most subtle and understated fanfare of natural harmony in the British Isles.”

Wildlife photographer and television presenter Chris Packham said that Butterfly Conservation’s monitoring scheme and the Great British Butterfly Hunt were excellent examples of the “amateur naturalist collecting great data”.

“Our butterflies are buckling under the stress of a beleaguered environment due to issues like the use of insecticides and pesticides,” he said. “I saw only one small tortoiseshell last year, there weren’t even any in my garden. When will we act?”

“Climate change is having a serious impact on our butterfly species, and we need as much information as possible about their changing habitat and populations so we can help conserve them, " agrees Defra Minister for Wildlife Huw Irranca-Davies. "Butterfly Conservation’s work on tracking them is invaluable, and I welcome the Independent’s campaign to get people more involved.“

"Butterflies need good habitats to thrive. Already 65% of English farmland is covered by the Government’s environmentally-friendly farming schemes to help conserve our wildlife, and I would encourage everyone to do their bit – from spotting butterflies to doing what they can to attract wildlife in their own neighbourhood.”



Wingtips: How to spot butterflies

*Butterflies are active in warm sunny weather, so choose days when the air temperature is above 14C and there is at least 50 per cent sun.

*Butterflies are most active from 10am to 4.30pm.

*Most species like sheltered, sunny positions to bask or feed. Try sheltered gardens, parks, derelict land, hedgerows, tall grasses, bramble, wild flowers, woodland clearings or south-facing slopes (take care).

*Certain garden plants are magnets. Butterflies visit to drink nectar through a long coiled proboscis (like a drinking straw). In spring, try dandelions and sweet rocket. In summer: buddleia (the "butterfly bush"), scabious, thistles, brambles and herbs in flower like marjoram and thyme.

*Approach slowly. They have all-round vision. Any quick movement will make them take off.

*If you are lucky enough to live near chalk or limestone grassland, several beautiful and rare species of blue butterfly thrive in shorter-grazed vegetation.

*Carry a picture guide or poster.

*Binoculars can be very useful.

*Follow a flying butterfly to where it lands to feed. This sometimes offers a better look at its underside markings, helpful for identifying species like the green-veined white.

*Three don'ts. Don't handle caterpillars; they are delicate. Don't catch butterflies with bare hands; their scaly wings do not regenerate. And try not to trample vegetation or wild flowers which may be used for breeding.

Joining the Butterfly Hunt

Whether as an afternoon diversion from a picnic, or a summer-long quest to track all 58 of Britain's butterfly species, The Independent's Great British Butterfly Hunt aims to offer a glimpse of the beauty and fragility of our rich natural heritage.

And for those of our readers with a competitive edge, we offer a competition. The aim: to see as many of our native butterfly types as possible. The prize is an afternoon tracking the most elusive, the brown hairstreak, with expert Dr Martin Warren. It is the very last of UK butterflies to emerge (at the end of August), medium-sized and brown, with distinct "tails" on the hindwings. This hidden wonder of a creature can best be spotted by the "white pinprick" of an egg, laid on blackthorn.

The winner's rail travel expenses within the UK will be covered and lunch provided.

We encourage entrants of all ages. Simply send us, by Monday 17 August, 12pm, your butterfly diary. Briefly list each native species you see; the date and time; and the exact location. And please add one very brief description (no more than 250 words) of your butterfly hunt.

The judges will take into account the number of species spotted and also the description.

Enter by post (Butterfly Hunt, The Independent, 191 Marsh Wall, London, E14 9RS) or email (britishbutterflies @independent.co.uk). The winner will be announced in the newspaper. For terms and conditions please see independent.co.uk/comprules or send an SAE. Best of British.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Junior Project Manager (website, web application) - Agile

£215 per day: Ashdown Group: Junior Project Manager (website, web application ...

Guru Careers: Business Development Manager / Sales

£30 - 40k (£65k Y1 OTE Uncapped): Guru Careers: We are seeking a Business Deve...

Guru Careers: Graduate Media Assistant

Competitive (DOE): Guru Careers: We are looking for an ambitious and adaptable...

Guru Careers: Solutions Consultant

£30 - 40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Solutions Consultan...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before