How software helps Butterfly Conservation efficiently monitor butterfly and moth populations

Posted on July 28, 2021

We are pleased to be working with Butterfly Conservation again on their biggest annual event, the Big Butterfly Count. Due to our expertise in designing and developing citizen science software, Butterfly Conservation invited us to modernise and optimise the previous app and website. The project is powered by the Coreo data collection platform, and in 2020 it supported over 100,000 citizen scientists who took part in the count.

The Big Butterfly Count is a UK-wide survey which aims to help scientists assess the health of the environment. It does this by asking the public to count the amount and type of butterflies (and some day-flying moths) they see. It’s the largest butterfly survey of its kind in the world. The data it provides is invaluable to Butterfly Conservation enabling them to better protect the environment for butterflies, wildlife and people.

We caught up with Gillian Power, Head of Communications at Butterfly Conservation, to understand how our software is helping them efficiently monitor butterfly and moth populations across the UK and why citizen science projects, like these, are so important to conservation.

Natural Apptitude:

Hi Gillian, it’s great to catch up with you. We’ve seen that the uptake for the Big Butterfly Count has been fantastic again this year. Why did you choose Natural Apptitude as your software provider for your flagship project?

Gillian:

“We launched the Big Butterfly Count in 2010. As with all citizen science projects, we want to make it bigger and better year on year. In order to do this, we knew we needed to use software that was suitable for both our citizen scientists and our data scientists and ecologists behind the scenes. 

As we don’t have the inhouse capacity to do this, partnering with Natural Apptitude was the obvious choice for us, given both your track record with projects relating to citizen science and the fact that we can utilise the Coreo platform. You came highly recommended by the data science team and by others outside of the organisation. Your obvious commitment to the environment is also a real asset – it’s makes everything really easy for us.

Big butterfly count app

Natural Apptitude:

It’s great to hear that our company ethos has played a role in our partnership over the last few years, we’ve certainly loved working with you all. Can you tell me how the project went last year, given the obviously difficult circumstances relating to Covid?

Gillian:

“Given that everything got thrown in the air we couldn’t really have asked for more – it was fantastic. We introduced some new features, like needing to create an account, which we were a bit worried might affect uptake.

“However, 2020’s Big Butterfly Count was the most successful to-date and saw the number of counts increase by 25% from the previous year. This reinforces the positive impact software can have on projects like these.”

Natural Apptitude:

The numbers in 2020’s Big Butterfly Count are clearly impressive. Could you explain why you feel citizen science projects are so important to conservation organisations like Butterfly Conservation?

Gillian:

“Butterflies are what we call indicator species . They provide a good representation of how the environment is doing in general. By undertaking widespread studies, including those such as the Big Butterfly Count that use data derived from citizen scientists, we know that in the last 40 years 76% of the UK’s resident and regular migrant butterfly species have declined in either abundance or occurrence (or both).

“To many people, the decline of these insects may seem insignificant in comparison to the amount of plastic pollution in our waters, or the increasing temperature of our Earth. However, the rapid decline of butterflies and moths is an indication of a much bigger problem in the global ecosystem.

“Without citizen science projects like the Big Butterfly Count, organisations like ours would be unable to collect consistent data on the scale we need to accurately understand what is happening in the natural world.

“Last year we had over 100,000 people log sightings of butterflies and day flying moths. These data were gained from locations all over the UK. This enables our team of scientists and ecologists to build an accurate picture of butterfly and moth numbers in a wide range of environments. Through this, we are able to learn more about the overall health of biodiversity in the UK.

“We use this information in lots of different ways to help protect butterflies, moths and nature in general through our work.

Butterfly image
Photo credit – Dave Kilbey

“Aside from facilitating research on a much bigger scale, projects like these also enable us to build stronger connections between the general public, us and nature, by giving them opportunities to understand more about our work and make real change in the world around them.

Some people might think data collection is dull, but it’s not at all. It sits at the core of what we do because if we don’t know what’s broken, we can’t fix it. Citizen scientists, software, apps and platforms like Coreo are critical for the work we do and in the fight to protect our natural world.

Natural Apptitude:

Thanks Gillian! It’s been great speaking with you and you have provided wonderful insight into why we should all be taking part in the Big Butterfly Count and other citizen science projects.

We look forward to seeing the final numbers for this year’s count!

Find out how you can become a citizen scientist and take part in the Big Butterfly Count by here.

Check out some of our other projects here or click on the image below.

Our projects