Europe’s leading butterfly protection group says that the winged insects are declining at a steep rate across the continent due to a catastrophic loss of flowering meadows.
A new study by Butterfly Conservation Europe reveals the populations of 17 butterfly species have declined by more than 70 percent over the past 20 years. The study was conducted at 3,000 sites in 15 countries.
The organization cautions that butterflies are sensitive environmental indicators, and their decline is a warning of underlying problems with the environment.
The grassland habitats of the butterflies have been created by traditional livestock grazing and hay-making over centuries of human occupation since the last ice age.
The group says the losses are believed to be due to rapid changes in the way agriculture is conducted in Europe’s diverse semi-natural grasslands.
Recent decades have brought more intensive growing practices in some regions, and the loss of flowering crops as farms are abandoned in others.
“We urgently need a change in EU agricultural policy that favors ‘high nature value’ farming rather than over-intensification as at present,” group chief executive Martin Warren said in a statement.