Sir David Attenborough needs people in the North East to become back garden wildlife detectives by taking part in the world’s largest butterfly survey.
Butterfly Conservation president Sir David will take part in citizen science project the Big Butterfly Count in an effort to count one million butterflies over three weeks of British summertime.
More than 46,000 people took part in the count last year, spotting more than 800,000 butterflies and day-flying moths in their gardens, parks and countryside.
Butterflies rallied last summer after their worst year on record in 2012 and good weather this July and August could help Big Butterfly Count participants count a million butterflies for the first time since the Count launched in 2010.
Garden favourite the Small Tortoiseshell enjoyed its best year for a decade last summer, while Peacocks, Small and Large White also had good years, but migrants including Red Admiral and Painted Lady struggled.
Sir David is encouraging nature lovers in the North East to embrace the UK’s long heritage of amateur natural history by counting Commas, Marbled Whites, Small Coppers, Gatekeepers and other common butterflies between 19 July and 10 August.
He explained: “The UK is a nation of amateur naturalists and we have a proud tradition of celebrating and studying our wildlife.
“By taking part in the Big Butterfly Count this summer you can contribute to this heritage and discover the fantastic butterflies and other wildlife that share your garden, parks and countryside.
“The spectacle of Red Admirals and Small Tortoiseshells flitting around buddleia bushes is one of the classic sights of British summertime.
“Butterflies fought back last year after a terrible 2012 but despite this, butterfly numbers were still below average. Three-quarters of the UK’s butterflies are in decline and one-third are in danger of extinction.
“This is bad news for butterflies and it is bad news for the UK’s birds, bees, bats and other wildlife. This is because butterflies are a key indicator species of the health of our environment – if they are struggling, then many other species are struggling also.
“Every single person taking part in the Big Butterfly Count this summer can produce a statistic that is of real value as their records help build a picture of how butterflies are faring and how we can best conserve them.”
Sir David is urging gardeners to help butterflies by allowing a small patch of their garden to grow wild. He explained: “If you have space, why not let a small patch of grass grow out rather than mowing it short; leave a patch for nettles and brambles to flourish.
“If you don’t have a garden then try planting wild flowers in a window box. Just these small acts will create much needed butterfly habitat and help provide a lifeline for the UK’s back garden wildlife.”
Last year Small White was the most commonly seen with more than 150,000 counted, followed by the Large White with over 130,000 sightings, but both of these species have struggled so far this year and could lose top spot.
Their place could well be taken by the Peacock whose caterpillars have been seen in huge number during the spring and early summer.
For the fifth year running, the Big Butterfly Count is taking place in partnership with Marks and Spencer as part of its Plan A commitment to be the world’s most sustainable major retailer by 2015.
Mike Barry, M&S Director of Plan A, said: “This is our fifth year of partnering with Butterfly Conservation and we are working hard with our farmers to improve habitats for butterflies.
“We continue to encourage customers and employees to take part in the Big Butterfly Count too, which is now even easier thanks to the new app.”
The Big Butterfly Count is being launched at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) London Wetland Centre.
WWT Chief Executive Martin Spray said: “WWT is delighted to host the launch of the Big Butterfly Count once again. Our visitors often tell us how much they enjoy seeing butterflies at out Wetland Centres. The Count is a wonderful way to help the natural world by doing just that – enjoying spotting butterflies.”