NATURE lovers are being urged to play their part in a once-in-a-decade butterfly phenomenon.

Experts say an unusually high number of painted lady butterflies are heading to Essex.

The survey will form the world’s largest insect citizen science survey to help reveal if the UK is experiencing a record number of sightings of the rare butterfly.

A number of sightings have already been reported in Basildon, Southend and Chelmsford.

The butterfly is a common immigrant which moves in varying numbers from the continent to the UK each summer, where its caterpillars feed on thistles. But about 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 three 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 on the UK.

Mr Packham 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 30mph these seemingly fragile creatures migrate hundreds of miles to reach our shores each year.

“Signs across Europe are looking very promising, meaning 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 and look out for them – you could be witnessing a once in a decade butterfly phenomenon.”

Taking part in the count helps butterflies but it also has benefits for those doing the counting. Research has revealed that watching wildlife and spending time in nature can have positive benefits for mental health and wellbeing.

Chris added: “Immersing yourself in nature, even if it’s just for a few short minutes, changes your perspective, it helps you slow down and notice what’s going on around you and it opens a door to the overlooked beauty and drama of our natural world.”

The count runs until August 11 and taking part in the count is easy – find a sunny spot and spend 15 minutes counting the butterflies you see and then submit sightings online at