Sussex is experiencing once in a decade butterfly phenomenon

Chris Packham is urging wildlife lovers across Sussex to take part in the world’s largest insect citizen science survey to help reveal if the UK is experiencing a once in a decade butterfly phenomenon.

Friday, 26th July 2019, 7:00 am
Big Butterfly Hunt Painted Lady SUS-190724-131941001

Unusually high numbers of Painted Lady butterflies have been reported across Europe over the spring and early summer, with large numbers now spotted crossing over into the UK and along the Sussex coast

Around 150 sightings have already been reported across East and West Sussex, including 68 butterflies seen along the coast from Bognor Regis to Camber Sands, with sightings in Worthing, Brighton, Eastbourne and Hastings.

The butterfly has also been seen in Haywards Heath, near Horsham and Crawley - and more than 40 Painted Lady butterflies have been recorded near Steyning.

The butterfly is a common immigrant that migrates in varying numbers from the Continent to the UK each summer, where its caterpillars feed on thistles. But around once every 10 years the UK experiences a Painted Lady ‘summer’ when millions of the butterflies arrive en masse.

Butterfly Conservation Vice-president and wildlife broadcaster, Chris Packham, is calling on nature lovers to take part in the Big Butterfly Count over the next few weeks to help reveal if we are experiencing a Painted Lady year.

The last mass immigration took place in 2009 when around 11 million Painted Ladies descended widely across the UK.

Chris said: “The Painted Lady migration is one of the wonders of the natural world. 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.

“This butterfly undertakes an extraordinary 7,500-mile round trip from tropical Africa to the Arctic Circle every year. The signs are 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. You could be witnessing a once in a decade butterfly phenomenon.”

The Count runs from 19 July to 11 August. Taking part is easy - find a sunny spot and spend 15 minutes counting the butterflies you see and then submit sightings online at or via the free Big Butterfly Count app.

The Big Butterfly Count is sponsored by B&Q and is celebrating its 10th birthday this year, is the world’s largest butterfly survey. Participants are encouraged to spot and record 17 species of common butterfly, including the Painted Lady, and two day-flying moths in the UK during three weeks of high summer.

Last year more than 100,000 people counted over one million butterflies in total during the Count.

The Big Butterfly Count was launched at the Natural History Museum on July 19.