Why Sir David Attenborough needs you to count butterflies this summer

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Susan Devaney
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How many butterflies can you count in 15 minutes? Sir David Attenborough wants to know. 

Sir David Attenborough already rallied us round to work together in reducing our plastic consumption in Blue Planet II. Now, the undisputed king of wildlife television and national treasure, is asking us to save butterflies.

While butterflies have (like us) been soaking up the sunshine this month, Attenborough is urging the British public to go outside and count the beautiful butterflies to help experts see how the insects are faring this summer and reap the mental health benefits, too.

As part of the Big Butterfly Count, which kicks off from today (20 July) until 12 August, people are being asked to count butterflies for 15 minutes and then input your recordings online. And experts want you to look out for 17 particular species – including holly blue, common white, common blue and red admirals.

The majority of butterfly species have been in decline over the past 40 years, with experts fearing that if the hot summer continues it will be catastrophic. According to the Butterfly Conservation, three-quarters of British butterflies are in decline. 

Speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme, Sir Attenborough said: “I’m asking people turn their mind away from squabbles and problems about what’s facing us with Brexit, sit in a quiet place where the sun is shining and see how many butterflies come and count them.

“I know there are some experts who have done scientific research and they’ve discovered that actually it is good for people just to forget about the woes of Brexit and any whatever other woes they may see politically around the world, and just concentrate on the natural world that was here before us and will be here after us.

Attenborough added: “And that simple pleasures of looking at butterflies in the garden is calming to the soul and spirit and good for us all.”

The Big Butterfly Count kicks off today (Friday 20 July)

Mental health charity Mind is backing the count as spending time outside with nature can help with depression and anxiety. 

“We’re delighted to see that Butterfly Conservation is promoting the mental health benefits of getting outdoors. At Mind, we have found that being in nature can have a powerful, grounding effect, with research indicating that it can help alleviate mental health problems like depression and anxiety,” Stephen Buckley, head of information at Mind, tells

“The Big Butterfly Count is a wonderful way of interacting with the environment so we really welcome the project and would encourage people to look at the tips and ideas on our website for even more ways to bring nature into our lives.”

And people are set and ready to get involved. 

You can also watch this video to get more information on how you can get involved:

Print off your chart, go spot some butterflies and input your findings here.

Images: Unsplash / Getty