Butterfly Conservation Europe recently concluded the analysis of data from 15 countries, covering 3,000 different sites, and have learned that 17 butterfly species have suffered a 70% loss in population.
Dr Martin Warren, the Chief Executive of Butterfly Conservation UK said in a press release “The results show the dramatic and continuing loss of biodiversity in European grasslands. We urgently need a change in EU agricultural policy that favours High Nature Value farming rather than over-intensification as at present. The results would be better for the environment and better for rural communities who are struggling to survive under the current system of support which favours larger more intensive producers.”
Butterflies, said Butterfly Conservation, “are one of the best monitored groups of wildlife in Europe.” The group is urging Europe to adopt butterflies as agricultural indicators, because “Butterflies are sensitive environmental indicators; alerting us to underlying problems with the environment.”
The charitable organization went on to say “Grasslands are a vital habitat for European wildlife and support a huge range of plants and insects. If butterfly numbers are falling, inevitably other wildlife is also in decline.”
The group speculates that the losses to the butterfly populations are the result of “rapidly changing agricultural practices in Europe’s diverse semi-natural grasslands.” Those grasslands, said the press release, were “created by traditional livestock grazing and hay-making over centuries of human occupation since the last ice-age. This management creates a wonderfully flower-rich breeding habitat for butterflies and many other insects.”
The problem, noted Butterfly Conservation Europe, is that changes in agricultural practices, such as intensification in some regions and abandonment in others, have resulted in a deterioration of the grasslands. The noted agricultural changes are believed to have been caused in turn by economic and social forces.
Butterfly species in decline include: Dingy Skipper, Lulworth Skipper, Large Skipper, Orange-tip, Small Copper, Large Blue, Common Blue, Chalkhill Blue, Adonis Blue, Small Blue, Marsh Fritillary, Small Heath, Meadow Brown, and Wall.
The Butterfly Conservation report differs from the ICUN on the status of the Chalkhill Blue butterfly. The ICUN states this butterfly species is of the least concern. However, the extent of the decline meshes with an earlier report from 2004, prepared for the European Environment Agency, that examined European butterfly populations. That report found butterfly populations had declined by 28% between 1980 and 2002.
Earlier this year, the Daily Mail reported that David Attenborough had warned butterfly populations in the United Kingdom were in decline. He said one way to encourage butterflies is to allow more wildflowers to grow and to reduce the use of pesticides.
While the importance of butterflies in the environment is not fully known as yet, the insects are known as pollinators, as well as playing an important role in the food web, states the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. The museum website also said butterflies are an important guide to the health of an ecosystem.