Abstract Three methods of describing the changes in abundance of butterflies in The Netherlands are discussed. The best proved to be the calculation of the percentage of the total number of investigated squares where the species was reported in a five-year period. Using this method six groups of species with a similar change in abundance are distinguished. Of the 63 species analysed, 29 (46%) have decreased or are extinct, 17 (27%) have hardly changed their range and only 7 species (11%) seem to have expanded their range. Apart from this 10 species (16%) fluctuate in range.