One of the UK’s favourite butterflies has fluttered back from the brink of extinction and is now thriving in Dorset.

The small tortoiseshell has made a dramatic comeback after years of decline, despite enduring the coldest August since 1993.

According to the Big Butterfly Count, the species. which had been in danger of disappearing from Britain, was the most abundant butterfly recorded in the county, with an overall increase of 22 per cent in the last year.

Throughout the three-week survey this summer, 1260 counts were submitted by people in Dorset.

Local participants saw an average of 19 individual butterflies per count this year, which is higher than the national average of 15 individuals per count.

The second most common species locally was the gatekeeper followed by meadow brown.

Peacock butterflies didn’t do as well in Dorset as it did nationally (it was fifth most common species in Dorset but number one in the UK).

Despite a warm July, August was the coldest for more than 20 years according to the Met Office. This drop in temperature had a knock-on effect on the majority of the UK’s common summer butterflies, curtailing the flight period of some species and hastening others into early hibernation.

Nearly 45,000 people of all ages took part in this year’s Big Butterfly Count, spotting almost 560,000 butterflies during the three-week survey.

Butterfly Conservation Surveys manager Richard Fox explains: “After a good summer in 2013, the big question this year was whether butterflies would continue to recover and build up even greater numbers or slip back again.

“Thanks to another amazing turnout from the public, we know that the answer is a real mixture. The small tortoiseshell had a good year in 2013 and this seems to have acted as a springboard for the species, enabling it to increase massively again this summer. It’s fantastic news for a species that has lost three quarters of its population since the 1970s.

“Others such as the gatekeeper held their ground this year, but sadly, many common butterflies appear to have sunk back from last year’s peak in numbers.”

Big Butterfly Count 2014

Top 10 species seen nationwide

1 Peacock   95,551       
2 Gatekeeper   79,937
3 Small White   65,549
4 Small Tortoiseshell  63,238
5 Meadow Brown  58,007
6 Large White    49,670
7 Red Admiral  25,606
8 Green-veined White   21,701
9 Common Blue   17,819
10 Speckled Wood  14,420

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