New report: most UK butterflies still in decline


Four out of every five UK butterfly species have declined since the 1970s, according to The State of the UK's Butterflies 2022 report.

Butterfly Conservation, the charity that published the report, says the scale of loss is a clear warning signal of the wider biodiversity crisis, and that time is running out to reverse the negative trends in abundance and distribution. Last year, the latest Red List of British Butterflies categorised half the remaining 59 species in the UK as either threatened or near-threatened.

Wall is classed as Endangered on the UK Red List, having been lost from 70% of its range between 2010 and 2019 (Alan Jack).

Specialist species requiring flower-rich grassland, heather or woodland clearings have suffered the worst, declining on average by 27% in abundance and 68% in range since 1976. Butterflies that can survive in agricultural and urban areas have not decreased so dramatically, but these generalist species have still seen average losses of 17% in abundance and 8% in distribution.

The report also highlights how targeted conservation efforts can save struggling species, pointing to the successful reintroduction of Chequered Skipper to England, projects boosting the population of Wood White in the West Midlands and the resurgence of Large Heath in Scotland after peatland restoration work. However, Butterfly Conservation says available resources to not match up to the scale of the wider problem and has called for the government to safeguard habitats and prevent further declines.

Of the four nations, England's butterflies have suffered the worst, though recent increases in vulnerable species such as Heath Fritillary and Duke of Burgandy provide further hope.

Dr Richard Fox, Head of Science for Butterfly Conservation and lead author of the report, said: "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."

Julie Williams, Chief Executive 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 report, based on nearly 23 million records mostly gathered by volunteer citizen scientists, was produced in collaboration with the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, and the British Trust for Ornithology.