Some of Britain’s most beautiful butterflies could have vanished from the countryside within years, wildlife experts have warned.
A shocking new study has found that 37 per cent of our native butterfly species are either under the threat of extinction, or have died out completely.
The fluttering insects have been so badly hit by the rise of intensive farming and the loss of habitats, they are now faring worse than any other group of domestic wildlife – including dragonflies, plants and birds.
The warning came as Butterfly Conservation published a new list of the 23 native species which are classified as endangered or extinct in the UK.
Another 11 out of the UK’s 72 butterflies are rated as ‘near threatened’ while fewer than half are considered to be safe.
The list includes the High Brown Fritillary – the fastest declining of all British butterflies which has seen numbers drop by 85 per cent over the last decade.
A handsome speckled insect, it once bred in woods in Wales and southern England but it is now found in only 30 small colonies in the South West, South Wales and Cumbria.
Another of the critically endangered species – the Large Blue – was wiped out in Britain in 1979s, but has been reintroduced to chalky hillsides in the South West.
The Large Blue has the strangest life cycle of any British butterfly. Its caterpillars mimic the scent of red ant grubs, fooling worker ants to pick them up and take them into the nest. Once safely inside, the caterpillars eat the ant grubs.
Butterfly Conservation spokesman Richard Fox said: ‘The new Red List shows that the number of butterflies in need of our help has increased dramatically in the past 10 years.
‘We have already seen conservationists bring the Large Blue butterfly back from extinction but there is so much more we need to do to secure the future for our fastest declining species. They are our heritage.’
Four out of Britain’s 72 native butterflies are now extinct, the charity said. They include the Black-Veined White, the Large Copper, the Marazine Blue and the Large Tortoiseshell.
Dr Cox said butterflies were doing more badly than other threatened wildlife. According tot he latest studies, 21 per cent of dragonfly species , 29 per cent of birds and 20 per cent of plants are endangered in the UK.
The new ‘Red List’ of threatened butterflies is based on data collected by thousands of volunteers organised by Butterfly Conservation and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Oxfordshire.
The creatures have suffered from the loss of grasslands rich in wild flowers and the decline in quality of Britain’s woodlands. Pesticides and intensive farming have also hit their numbers.
Conservationists warn that butterflies are an important indicator of the health of the environment and if their numbers are falling, other wildlife will also be in decline.