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Wildlife charity says butterfly survey findings are worrying


By Alan Hendry

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A wildlife charity says it is worried by the findings of its annual Big Butterfly Count.

Butterfly Conservation reported a 34 per cent reduction in the average number of butterflies logged per count in comparison with 2019, and the lowest average number of butterflies overall since the survey began 11 years ago.

In all, during this year’s Big Butterfly Count, more than 1.4 million butterflies were counted across the UK.

The most widely counted butterfly in the Big Butterfly Count in Scotland was small tortoiseshell. A total of 4982 small tortoiseshells were counted north of the border, down by 21 per cent on 2019.

The small tortoiseshell was the most abundant butterfly in Scotland in the Big Butterfly Count 2020. This one was photographed in Wick on August 9. Picture: Alan Hendry
The small tortoiseshell was the most abundant butterfly in Scotland in the Big Butterfly Count 2020. This one was photographed in Wick on August 9. Picture: Alan Hendry

Second in the Scottish rankings was the small white at 4241 (down by 25 per cent), with the large white third on 2793 (a five per cent reduction).

Dr Zoe Randle, senior surveys officer at Butterfly Conservation, said: “Unfortunately, this summer has not seen an abundance of butterflies across the UK.

"We do see peaks and troughs of butterfly numbers each year – last year, for example, we saw a huge influx of migrant painted lady butterflies – so the data from the Big Butterfly Count is an important snapshot which, along with our other monitoring schemes, helps our understanding of the rates of decline of butterflies and moths.

“Coming so shortly after the recent WWF and UN reports on the global biodiversity crisis, these 2020 results illustrate the perilous state of wildlife in the UK.

"However, the fact that so many people take part in this exciting citizen science initiative is encouraging and makes a huge difference to our understanding of how the natural world is responding to the crisis it is in.

“Now we need to see initiatives both here and across the world to put nature on a path to recovery.”

Dr Randle added: “The fall in butterfly numbers this summer may be due to a number of factors. An unusually warm spring led many species to emerge earlier than usual, so we may have only caught the tail end of the flight period for many species during this year’s Big Butterfly Count.

“It’s important to look at butterfly trends over longer periods, so our scientists will be using these results alongside our other datasets to get a clearer understanding of what is happening."

This year also saw the highest number of butterfly sightings ever submitted by the public, with 111,628 participants submitting 145,249 counts – an increase of 25 per cent on 2019.

The charity said: “It seems that, in a very dark and challenging year, the opportunity for getting out into nature and helping as citizen scientists was very welcome to people who were able to participate in the count. Butterfly Conservation is thrilled the event was enjoyed by so many people.”

Butterflies and moths are valuable indicators of the health of the environment. Their declines show not only the effects of human behaviour on the planet but the changing patterns of the weather.

They play key roles in the ecosystems of birds, mammals, invertebrates and plants as food, population controllers and pollinators.



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