A major scientific study by Butterfly Conservation and the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology has revealed that 76% of the UK’s resident and migrant species of butterfly are now declining. Worryingly, many once abundant species of butterfly such as the Essex Skipper, Wall and Small Heath, now rank amongst the most dramatically declining butterfly species in Britain.
Not just bad news for butterflies
This ’40 year slump’ in butterfly numbers is seriously worrying conservation experts; Packham asks “If butterflies are going down like this, what’s happening to our grasshoppers, our beetles, our solitary bees? If butterflies are in trouble, rest assured everything else is.
The report did reveal some positive news; due to intensive conservation efforts, some of the UK’s most endangered butterflies have experienced a last-minute boost in numbers. The Duke of Burgundy butterfly has increased by 67% and the Pearl-bordered Fritillary has increased by 45%.
Despite this last-minute reversal in fortunes for some rare species, scientists are still unsure as to why butterflies are disappearing at such an alarming rate.
However conservationists say that pesticides and herbicides may be causing more damage than was previously thought. Packham has called for better funding for scientific studies of insect decline in Britain.
“It points to the fact that there’s something significant that we’re missing,” he said. “I think personally it’s the over-use of a broad spectrum of insecticides and then neonicotinoids thrown into the mix since the 1990s.”
A recent article by the BBC states that “More than 50 conservation groups say that “policy-driven” intensification of farming is a significant driver of nature loss in the UK” and that our natural wild-life, including butterflies, is being “squeezed out”.
Mark Eaton, the lead author of a State of Nature report that assessed 8,000 UK species, says: “We now know that farming practices over recent decades have had the single largest impact on the UK’s wild life.”
Glyphosate herbicide ‘decimates’ monarch butterflies
In November 2015, a new 10-year licence was granted for the use of glyphosate based herbicides across Europe. This best-selling weed killer used on crops has been blamed for the ‘accidental decimation’ of monarch butterfly populations in several American states.
EcoWatch.com reports that the staple diet of monarch butterflies, the milkweed plant, was eradicated by glyphosate herbicides, “causing monarch reproductive rates to drop by more than 80%.”
Now that this damaging chemical has once again been approved for used in Europe, it could spell even worse news for UK butterfly populations.
There’s still time to act
However this needn’t mean a bleak future for butterflies, the success of intensive conservation efforts for rare butterfly breeds, such as the Duke of Burgundy, shows that work can be done to reverse the fortunes of declining insect life.
As tenants on the Knepp Castle estate Rewilding Project in Sussex, Green People has seen first-hand the amazing work of conservationists in protecting British butterflies.
The Knepp Wildland Project is one of the major hotspots for the extremely rare Purple Emperor, boasting the second largest population in the UK in their 2014 survey.
Read more about the Knepp Castle Rewilding Project here.
How can you help?
To help support our UK butterfly populations, you can donate to Butterfly Conservation, which works to conserve butterflies, moths and our environment through practical action, scientific studies and education. You can become a member to unlock fantastic benefits, or make a one-off donation to this amazing charity.
It is also advisable to choose organic food and personal care products wherever possible. Non-organic crops are often grown using a combination of pesticides, herbicides and even neonicotinoids – possibly one of the most damaging factors for insect populations.
Choosing organic produce helps to prevent declining biodiversity by supporting farmers that don’t use these potentially harmful chemicals on their crops.
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