26,000 people counted butterflies in their gardens

The Great Butterfly Count reveals 10 most common species in Belgium

The Great Butterfly Count reveals 10 most common species in Belgium

The study also reveals that 2021 has been a relatively good year for the insect’s population

The Belgian organisation Natuurpunt published their annual Great Butterfly Count yesterday. The count took place between 5 and 25 July and over 26,000 enthusiastic participants helped Natuurpunt in their mammoth task.

In the end, the Red Admiral butterfly turned out to be the most common species, with 14,595 sightings in the whole country, followed by the Small Cabbage White and the Peacock butterfly.

The top three are the Red Admiral, the Small Cabbage White and the Peacock Butterfly,
Source: Natuurpunt Website.

You can count the butterflies but not touch them

Natuurpunt is a Belgian volunteer organisation with more than 120,000 members, dedicated to protecting nature in Flanders. They reflood swamps, create nature paths and help diminishing species regain a more stable population.

That last activity is also the aim of the Great Butterfly Count as butterfly populations are significantly lower for many species compared with decades ago. At the same time, recently, there has been a steady recovery in the population of some species, while others have become scarcer.  

The spring of 2021 provided a weak start to the butterfly year, as it was rather wet, with few sunny days. This, however, created good conditions for caterpillars and created a butterfly explosion during mid-July.

Compared to 2018 and 2019’s droughts that led to a collapse in the population of numerous species, this was a very good year. Currently, the population of the Peacock butterfly has bounced back to above-average levels.

However, this is not yet a reason to shout hurrahs. Butterfly numbers are significantly lower for many species compared to decades ago. Grassland butterflies in particular are systematically declining.

Moreover, there are pronounced differences in the recovery from one species to the next. The Little Fox, the most common garden butterfly in Belgium, for instance, is having a hard time regaining its former prominence.

Here are Belgium’s top 10 butterfly species:

  • Red Admiral - 14,595 sightings;
  • Small cabbage white 13,370 sightings;
  • Peacock butterfly 11,575 sightings;
  • Meadow Brown 6,113 sightings;
  • Large Cabbage White 5,684 sightings;
  • Polygonia c-album, also known as the comma5,516 sightings;
  • Common brimstone 4,639 sightings;
  • Meadow Orange 2,625 sightings;
  • Painted Lady 1,981 sightings;
  • Little fox 1,947 sightings.

Watching the grass grow and counting the butterflies

The Great Butterfly Count uses a method of five-minute samples. Essentially, a participant would observe their garden for five minutes and record the number and species of the butterflies. While this method cannot give an accurate estimation of the overall butterfly population in Belgium, it can show whether there are a lot of butterflies from a given species or a few.

Compared with data from previous years, this can give a generalised view of the fluctuations in the population. While participants would never see all the species in the span of five minutes, they could do as many counts as they wanted and the large sample pool somewhat ensures the necessary diversity in points of view.

A total of 26,000 participants in just under 10,000 households took part in the count. Throughout the count, Ortwinn Hoffmann from Waasmunster did it most frequently, 177 times. Ludo Vorsselmans from Zoersel, on the other hand, saw the most species. There were 38 different butterfly species flying around in his garden.

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