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Millions of painted lady butterflies seen across UK in once-in-a-decade phenomenon

Warm weather, plentiful food supplies and good wind conditions on migration north bring bumper arrival

Colin Drury
Saturday 03 August 2019 16:27 BST
(Jim Asher)

Millions of painted lady butterflies are bringing colour to the UK in what has been described as a once-in-a-decade migration.

Hundreds of sightings of the insect – which generally live in North Africa and the Mediterranean – are being recorded across the country every day.

Although thousands fly here every summer, the current warm weather, plentiful food supplies and good wind conditions as they fly north have all meant a bumper arrival this time round.

About 11 million of the butterflies were seen in the UK during the last “painted lady year” in 2009 – but some experts have suggested this migration could be even larger.

The sightings are currently being collated by the annual Big Butterfly Count, a mass-participation initiative which invites nature-lovers to submit what they are seeing to a public survey online.

Chris Packham, the celebrity naturalist who supports the project, called the current migration “one of the wonders of the natural world”.

He said: “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.”

Speaking more generally about their journey, he added: “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.”

The mass arrival is some much-needed good news: according to the Butterfly Conservation Society, there is evidence of “serious, long-term and ongoing decline of UK butterflies”.

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The charity’s five-yearly research, last published in 2015, indicated 70 per cent of species had declined since 1976.

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