A butterfly’s wing

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.

Butterfly Conservation (a really excellent organisation with fantastic staff) has issued a report on the state of UK butterflies for the last decade.

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.

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12 Replies to “A butterfly’s wing”

  1. When are we going to be shown that the release of 36 million pheasants and 6.6 million Red legged Partridge are having an effect on our butterfly numbers!!

  2. Ah action and consequence. Lots of action and no thought at all to consequence, how often have we born witness to this mistake? I for one have taken on the new phrase of 'The George Osborne Syndrome' to describe such thoughtlessness.

  3. I watched the lunchtime news on BBC ONE today and the last 'story' was on how our butterfly population has declined by 75% in a decade.

    It struck me, why on earth should that be the last news worth reporting, as if it was an afterthought?

    "Oh there was just one last thing. Loss of habitat in this countryside the past ten years is so serious, that we've lost three quarters of our butterflies. Anyway, here's Tom with the weather..."

    Why doesn't some brave soul at the BBC make that the leading news story? Perhaps then more people would take notice of the environment and its woes.

    "Attention! Things are serious now chaps. Their habitat is ultimately our habitat. We must all strive to make a difference. Here's how..."

    How dare we consistently presume that we are a superior species. We're all in this together. People need to be shown the bigger picture.

  4. Looks like a very interesting report. It would seem most butterfly species richness is concentrated in the south of England, and English woodland species have shown the greatest declines while those in Scotland have increased. Could those pesky deer in the south east which have been fingered for Nightingale declines have anything to do with disappearing butterflys? Less vegetation for caterpillars to consume? Could be an employment opportunity here, culling deer and processing them for local markets. Something for the environment NGOs to consider and a constructive opportunity to show how managing wildlife can help people too? Or perhaps it would take 20 years of research before anything could be done, don't suppose GO will be funding it, I mean George Osborne not Goldfinch :-). I have more mad ideas like this if anyone is interested.

  5. EWH - absolutely spot on. 100% agree with you on every point. The environment needs a top PR person. There is huge need to engage the general public in ALL the issues. This requires the conservation sector to do some joined up thinking and get the message broadcast. I often get the feeling that conservationists have an inferiority complex - whilst they suffer from this they always will be 'dropped off the end of the list'. Now is not the time to be compromising or doing deals - now is the time to be clear, concise and confidentally outspoken.

  6. Agree with EWH. I see that Radio 4 is doing its annual thing on inviting guest editors on each day for a week. Mark, I thought you should have been given the job for a day (at least!).
    Anyone interested in the future of butterflies in the UK should join Butterfly Conservation or if you are already a member buy a gift membership for a friend or relative this Christmas.

  7. Let's not forget the plight of some of our 2,500 or so species of moths; BC look out for them too don't they?


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