The State of the UK's Butterflies 2022 report, released today by Butterfly Conservation, has revealed the alarming news that 80% of butterflies in the UK have declined since the 1970s.
Decreases in butterfly populations on this scale are a huge cause for concern as butterflies are an integral part of the UK ecosystem and their precipitous decline is a clear warning signal of the wider biodiversity crisis.
- Butterfly species that rely on particular habitats are most affected and have declined dramatically in the UK.
- Half of all Britain's remaining butterfly species are now listed as at risk of extinction on the British Red List.*
- However, the report also shows that targeted conservation action can turn around the fortunes of threatened butterfly species.
Scientists at Butterfly Conservation are today warning that time is running out for the UK's butterflies, as long-term trends show that most butterfly species have declined in either abundance, distribution, or both in the past five decades. The news follows the release of the new Red List of British Butterflies last May, which showed half of all the remaining species in Britain are now classed as threatened or near threatened.
Habitat loss across the UK has led to dramatic declines in those species that require flower-rich grassland, heathland, and woodland clearings to thrive. These specialist species have, on average, decreased by more than a quarter (27% decrease) in abundance and lost over two-thirds (68% decrease) of their distribution since 1976.
Butterfly species that can breed in the farmed countryside and urban areas have fared less badly, but as a group they have still declined by 17% in abundance and 8% in distribution.
However, despite the gloomy picture painted by the long-term trends, the report points to numerous examples proving that targeted conservation action can turn around the fortunes of threatened butterflies at site, landscape, and national levels. These include the successful recent reintroduction of the Chequered Skipper to England, a succession of long-term conservation projects driving up numbers of Wood White across the West Midlands, and peatland restoration on lowland bogs in Scotland benefitting the Large Heath population.
The resources currently available for such work are woefully inadequate to address the scale of the task and to stem the ongoing decline of the UK's butterflies. Butterfly Conservation is calling on the UK governments to step up and take the necessary action to protect habitats, help nature's recovery, and prevent more species from being lost.
Head of Science for Butterfly Conservation, and lead author of the report, Dr Richard Fox, noted: "This comprehensive stock-take of the state of the UK's butterflies reveals the huge scale of the challenge to halt and reverse the decline in butterfly populations in the years ahead. Thanks to tens of thousands of people who contribute sightings through projects such as the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme and Big Butterfly Count, we have amazing data to plot the changing fortunes of our butterflies. What is needed now is a step-change in government support to bring butterflies and other wildlife back to the UK's nature reserves, farmland, forests and built-up areas.
"We know that where conservation action is carefully targeted and sustained in the long-term it has real impact. Butterfly Conservation continues to work with other organisations, communities and landowners on many projects that are halting declines and turning butterfly numbers around. However, the scale of the decline in the UK's butterflies has reached a point where much more resource is urgently required."
Julie Williams, CEO of Butterfly Conservation, said: "This report is yet more compelling evidence of nature's decline in the UK. We are totally dependent on the natural world for food, water and clean air. The state of our species and habitats shows that the natural world is in trouble. We need swift and effective action on this. The decline in butterflies we have seen in our own lifetimes is shocking and we can no longer stand by and watch the UK's biodiversity be destroyed."
The State of the UK's Butterflies 2022 has been produced by Butterfly Conservation working together with the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology and British Trust for Ornithology. The report is based on nearly 23 million butterfly records, almost all of which were contributed by volunteer citizen scientists, that assesses the UK's 59 species of breeding butterflies.
The full report can be found here.
*More information on the latest Red List assessment of butterflies can be found here: https://butterfly-conservation.org/news-and-blog/half-of-british-butterfly-species-on-new-red-list