Meet the bright beauty that is bidding to colonise Norfolk

A Yellow-legged Tortoiseshell.

A Yellow-legged Tortoiseshell. - Credit: Archant

A rare sighting of an exotic large and dramatically-coloured butterfly in Norfolk and Suffolk has prompted speculation the species might be trying to colonise the UK.

Sir David Attenborough launches the Big Butterfly Count, at London Zoo.

Sir David Attenborough launches the Big Butterfly Count, at London Zoo. - Credit: Archant

The Yellow-legged Tortoiseshell was spotted twice in the two counties, including once in Attleborough, over the past week.

It is only the second time the butterfly - a relative of the garden favourite, the Small Tortoiseshell - has been reported since 1953. It is usually more at home in Eastern Europe, China and Japan.

The sightings came ahead of the start of the Big Butterfly Count this weekend, run by the Butterfly Conservation group. Organisers are encouraging anyone else who may see the creature to keep a look-out during the event, which runs until August 10.

Butterfly Conservation's survey's manager Richard Fox said: 'As if the excitement of the world's biggest butterfly count wasn't enough for this weekend, an incredibly rare migrant butterfly has been sighted on the coast of East Anglia.

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'The Yellow-legged Tortoiseshell has only reached Britain once before, in 1953.

'Over the past week, however, a major immigration of this eastern European species has taken place westwards through the Netherlands and across the Channel. Two confirmed sightings have already been made, in Norfolk and Suffolk, but more are expected in the coming days.'

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Celebrity Sir David Attenborough has backed calls for people to get involved in the Big Butterfly Count to encourage people to spot Yellow-legged Tortoiseshells and other butterflies.

'Butterflies fought back last year after a terrible 2012 but despite this, butterfly numbers were still below average,' Sir David said.

'Three-quarters of the UK's butterflies are in decline and one-third are in danger of extinction.

'This is bad news for butterflies and it is bad news for the UK's birds, bees, bats and other wildlife. This is because butterflies are a key indicator species of the health of our environment – if they are struggling, then many other species are struggling also.

'Every single person taking part in the Big Butterfly Count this summer can produce a statistic that is of real value as their records help build a picture of how butterflies are faring and how we can best conserve them.'

Last year, the Small White was the most commonly seen butterfly, with more than 150,000 counted. It was followed by the Large White, with over 130,000 sightings - but both of these species have struggled so far this year and could lose top spot, Butterfly Conservation has said.

Their place could well be taken by the Peacock, whose caterpillars have been seen in huge number during the spring and early summer.

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