40 year slump for UK butterflies

Latest report reveals that 76 per cent of the UK's butterfly species have declined over the last four decades.

The wall now ranks amongst the most severely declining butterflies in the UK.

The wall now ranks amongst the most severely declining butterflies in the UK.

More than three-quarters of the UK’s butterflies have declined in the last 40 years with some common species suffering significant slumps, a major scientific study has revealed.

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The State of the UK’s Butterflies 2015 report found that 76 per cent of the UK’s resident and regular migrant butterflies declined in abundance, occurrence or both over the last four decades.

The report, by Butterfly Conservation and the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH), found that a number of widespread species such as the wall, essex skipper and small heath now rank amongst the most severely declining butterflies in the UK.

The deterioration of suitable habitats due to agricultural intensification and changing woodland management are seen as major causes of the decline of butterflies that are habitat specialists.

Richard Fox, lead report author and Butterfly Conservation’s Head of Recording, says: “Overall the situation is stark. Most butterflies have decreased since the 1970s and an alarming number of common species have declined severely.”

However, the findings also reveal that intensive conservation efforts have started to turn around the fortunes of some of the UK’s most endangered butterflies.

The State of the UK’s Butterflies 2015 report: The facts

  • During the last 10 years the numbers of the threatened duke of burgundy have increased by 67 per cent and the pearl-bordered fritillary has experienced a 45 per cent rise in abundance.
  • Dingy skipper and silver-studded blue have shown 21 per cent and 19 per cent increases in occurrence respectively and the UK’s most endangered butterfly, the high brown fritillary, has been relatively stable in the last decade.
  • The long-term decline of the wood white, white admiral and marsh fritillary show few signs of stopping.
  • The wall, once a common farmland butterfly across southern Britain, has suffered a 36 per cent fall in occurrence and 25 per cent drop in abundance since 2005, continuing a longer trend of decline.
  • The gatekeeper, has experienced a 44 per cent decline in abundance in the last decade and numbers of small skipper have been below average in every year of the 21st century.
  • More butterflies are reaching the UK from overseas. Since the 1970s the three common migrant species – clouded yellow, red admiral and painted lady – have all increased dramatically in abundance.
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  • In the last few years rare migrants such the scarce tortoiseshell and long-tailed blue have arrived in unprecedented numbers.