Butterflies fight back

Butterflies fight back

Clouded-Yellow_Leigh-Prevost.jpgI thought is was a cold, wet, miserable rubbish summer last year. But apparently UK butterflies rallied last summer following their worst year on record in 2012, a study has revealed. Some 46 out of the 56 species studied in 2013 recorded an annual increase compared to 2012 – the worst butterfly year on record since the study, the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme (UKBMS), began in 1976.

Several rare species revived following 2012 with the Lulworth Skipper up by 162% and the critically endangered High Brown Fritillary up 133% as both responded to conservation work.

The warm weather saw a huge influx of some migrants with thousands more Clouded Yellow butterflies from the Continent.

Common species such as the Small, Large and Green-veined White, all of which had their worst year on record in 2012 bounced back to above average numbers in 2013 with all three increasing by more than 100%. Garden favourite the Small Tortoiseshell also rallied after years of decline. The butterfly was up by more than 200% on 2012 as last year’s warm summer saw it record its best year for a decade.

But despite the resurgence overall butterfly number were still below average, data gathered by the UKBMS, jointly led by Butterfly Conservation and the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH), revealed. The very cold spring of 2013 saw some of our most threatened habitat specialists suffer. The endangered Pearl-bordered Fritillary was down 22% compared to 2012, whilst Grizzled Skipper numbers fell by 45% to a series low.

The washout 2012 took a toll on butterflies with populations of rare species such as Duke of Burgundy becoming locally extinct.

Many UK species need a warm spring and summer this year to give them the best chance of sustaining a recovery. So do I.

Dr Tom Brereton, Head of Monitoring at Butterfly Conservation, said: “The recovery of butterflies in 2013 was highly welcome but there is still a long way to go before butterflies return to former glories.

“Our ongoing monitoring efforts will be vital in assessing whether we are on track to reverse butterfly declines and rebuild a healthy countryside.”

UKBMS has run since 1976 and involves thousands of volunteers collecting data every week throughout the summer from more than 1,000 sites across the UK.

CEH butterfly ecologist Dr Marc Botham said: “Annual changes are largely associated with the weather. However, the data show that a number of species have been significantly declining over the last 38 years. This highlights the importance of maintaining long-term monitoring, reliant on the immense dedication of thousands of volunteers, to determine species and habitats of conservation priority.”

Blueprint for Butterfly Survival Unveiled

Restoring and joining up habitat will prevent the UK’s threatened butterflies and moths from becoming extinct in the future, a groundbreaking report today revealed.

For the first time, the report by Butterfly Conservation provides concrete evidence that projects aimed at conserving butterflies and moths at a landscape-scale have enabled threatened species to flourish after decades of decline.

A landscape-scale approach works by improving and connecting land for wildlife by the coordinated conservation management of numerous sites for a range of species across a large natural area.

The report, Landscape-scale conservation for butterflies and moths: lessons from the UK, also shows that measures to conserve rare butterflies and moths have helped other threatened species as well as the habitats in which they live.

Butterflies are the most threatened wildlife group; more than three-quarters of Britain’s 57 resident species are declining and over 40% are listed as Priorities for Conservation. More than 80 moth species are also at risk.

Most threatened species are now confined to small patches of habitat that have been left isolated within the modern intensively managed countryside. For over a decade, Butterfly Conservation has adopted a landscape-scale approach to conserving these areas in order to manage existing habitats more effectively and link them with newly restored habitats. This combination of targeted management and restoration has allowed many species to flourish in each of the 12 landscapes covered in the report.

Examples include the Small Blue in Warwickshire which has increased from a low of three to eight colonies in just three years.

The numbers of Marsh Fritillary in one Dartmoor valley have increased by more than 1000% in five years and the number of Pearl-bordered Fritillary colonies in the Wyre Forest in the West Midlands doubled in ten years.

The report lends weight to the recent Government paper by ecologist Professor Sir John Lawton Making Space for Nature which states that we must habitats far bigger, better managed and more connected if species are to survive in the future.

Sir John said,

The Butterfly Conservation report shows what can be achieved through a highly focused species-led approach.

Very simply ‘more, bigger, better and joined’ works, and needs to be rolled out far more widely. Recreating, restoring and joining up habitats benefits not just butterflies and moths, but a host of other creatures with which they share their habitat.

Dr Sam Ellis, Butterfly Conservation Head of Regions, said:

Our report shows that landscape-scale conservation works for our most threatened species. We now need to raise the funds to implement landscape projects across the UK to halt the dramatic decline of butterflies and moths.

Butterfly Conservation is calling on government to provide more funding for landscape-scale initiatives and targeted species conservation in order to reverse the decline in biodiversity and achieve the government’s 2020 targets on biodiversity. Getting this government to put money into its biodiversity targets may be pushing on a closed door, as the Autumn statement may show tomorrow. But, hey, only two and half years to polling day.

The report Landscape-scale conservation for butterflies and moths: lessons from the UK is available from the Butterfly Conservation website www.butterfly-conservation.org/landscapereport