December isn’t a great month for butterflies (but then November wasn’t a great month for nature as a whole), although, of course, they are all (apart from the painted ladies and red admirals) still out there as eggs or pupae or some other clever way of getting through the winter if you really want to live on nectar.
Its messages mirror, in most ways, the messages that come out of similar reports on birds or any other taxon. Many species are in decline (three quarters of butterflies), including many species which were once very common (the small tortoiseshell is a good example – the skylark of the butterfly world?) but where targetted conservation action is taken, then species can recover very rapidly and impressively. The return of the large blue butterfly is a story at least as impressive as the recovery of the bittern.
Broad-brush habitat measures don’t work so well for many species, so measures such as the Higher Level Stewardship scheme in England are good value for money. And Butterfly Conservation would endorse Plantlife’s recent report on the importance of management in woodlands – not just for the plants but for woodland butterflies too.
And if you cut the money going into nature conservation, or spend it wrongly, then you will see more and more species declining when they could be recovering. Please note George Osborne! The Chancellor’s cuts to Defra, passed on to Natural England, and passed on to Butterfly Conservation will prejudice the chances of the UK meeting the commitment it made in Nagoya, Japan, only a little more than a year ago to halt biodiversity loss.
Added to which there are the signs of climate change in the northward spread of some species.
Many of the data that tell this important, but mostly sorry, tale were collected by volunteer enthusiasts in a ‘Big Society’ sort of way.
The messages are strikingly familiar to a bird-guy even though there are one or two butterfly species I would struggle to identify – we know the causes of decline, we can reverse those declines with good will and spending existing resources more cleverly. Will this message fall on deaf ears in the Coalition Government?
More on this when I have read the report more fully.