Every little butterfly counts

The Butterfly Conservation charity is encouraging everyone to join in with the big butterfly count, which is running until Sunday, 10 August 2014. This is the world’s biggest survey of butterflies, aimed at helping us assess the health of our environment.

One of the reasons why we are being asked to count butterflies is because they are fantastic biodiversity indicators – they are great representatives of the diversity and responses of other wildlife. They are very sensitive and react quickly to environmental change, because of their short life-cycles, limited dispersal ability, larval foodplant specialisation and close reliance on weather and climate.

We also need to keep a close eye on butterfly numbers because their populations are suffering. There are currently 59 species of butterfly in UK. Four butterflies became extinct during the last century and three-quarters of British butterflies are in decline. Since butterflies have been around for at least 50 million years, it would be sad to see the collapse of the fantastic diversity of species we see today.

So what could be the reason for their decline? Primarily it is habitat deterioration and destruction. Butterflies live in heathland, meadows, hedgerows and woodland, all of which have been decreasing in Britain due to urbanisation and poor management. Large habitat areas are being fragmented, leaving small populations vulnerable to extinction. Coppicing in woodland, that creates creates great butterfly habitat, is being practiced less. Furthermore, pesticides, artificial fertilisers and reduction of land grazed by animals has resulted in fewer flower-rich chalk grassland, heathland and meadows.

We can tell that climate is also having an effect on butterflies, because a few of them, such as the  Peacock, Comma, Speckled Wood, seem to be gradually moving northwards, almost certainly because of climate change. Many butterflies are in fact benefiting from the warmer weather rather than suffering, but because of habitat destruction, only one fifth of have been able to benefit from climate warming by expanding their range.

So let’s all muck in and help keep a count on these beautiful butterflies that give us so much joy. With good data we can conserve and protect effectively. As Jeffrey Glassberg once said, “Beautiful and graceful, varied and enchanting, small but approachable, butterflies lead you to the sunny side of life.  And everyone deserves a little sunshine.”.

Read some top tips for creating your own year-round haven for butterflies, throughout their lifecycle.

 

Butterfly Conservatoin, Big butterfly count, (2014), [online], available at: http://www.bigbutterflycount.org/ Accessed 24 July 2014.

Butterfly Conservation, butterflies and moths, (2014), [online], available at: http://butterfly-conservation.org/44/butterflies-and-moths.html Accessed 25 July 2014

Butterfly world project, Conserving British butterflies, (2014), [online], available at: www.butterflyworldproject.com/conservation-blog/conserving-british-butterflies/?id=0000000016 Accessed 24 July 2014

About.com, Insects: butterflies and moths, 2014, [online], available at: http://insects.about.com/od/butterfliesmoths/a/10-facts-butterflies.htm Accessed 24 July 2014

One Kind, Butterfly, (2014), [online], available at: www.onekind.org/be_inspired/animals_a_z/butterfly Accessed 24 July 2014

The State of the UK’s Butterflies, 2011, [online], Butterfly Conservation. Available at: http://butterfly-conservation.org/1643/the-state-of-britains-butterflies.html

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Kate Dey

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