Butterflywatch: mixed blessings of a long winter | Environment

A long, hard winter is no bad thing for butterflies. Researchers are discovering that milder winters wreak more havoc, disrupting the hibernation of many of our 59 native species, most of which endure the coldest months as caterpillars.

So this late spring may be a blessing in disguise, although erratic pulses of cold weather could spell disaster for some species. This March, I’ve only seen two small tortoiseshells – an unprecedentedly meagre return.

But British butterflies can celebrate one thing this month: the 50th anniversary of Butterfly Conservation. This dynamic little charity really fluttered into life in 1969 when the Rolling Stones released thousands of large whites on stage at Hyde Park to remember their dead bandmate, Brian Jones. Many of the butterflies were dying, and the co-founder of Butterfly Conservation wrote to the Times to condemn “the wanton releasing of butterflies in a park without food plants in the centre of a large city”.

Butterfly Conservation was a Cinderella organisation for decades – its first salaried staffer ran it from his spare room in the 1990s. But in the past decade, its membership has more than doubled. The charity now has more members than Ukip – and Momentum. The butterfly effect is becoming bigger.