They are one of the highlights of our summer days – piercing the air with their deft flights of fancy.
The joy that butterflies bring to our gardens each year is perhaps all the greater given their shortest lifespan.
But many face a threat even deeper than their fleeting nature.
Earlier this year it emerged that half of Britain’s remaining butterfly species are now on the Red List, which highlights species at risk of extinction.
Butterfly Conservation has issued a stern warning that time is running out to save some of the UK’s most beloved insects, as the UK Butterfly Red List has revealed a 26% rise in the number of species at risk of extinction.
Scientists at the wildlife charity have compiled the list, which assesses all butterfly species that regularly breed in Britain against the stringent criteria for risk of extinction set by the International Union for Conservation of nature (IUCN).
Of the 62 species assessed, four are extinct in Britain (Black-veined White, Large Tortoiseshell, Large Copper and Mazarine Blue), with 24 (41 percent of the remaining species) listed as ‘threatened’ (eight endangered , 16 vulnerable) and five others as “near threatened”.
When publishing the list, Dr Richard Fox, chief science officer for butterfly conservation, pointed out that even before the last assessment, British butterflies were among the most endangered in Europe, and now the number of endangered species in the UK increased by five. – an increase of more than a quarter.
“While some species have become less threatened and a few have even been removed from the red list, the overall increase clearly demonstrates that the deterioration in the status of British butterflies is continuing,” he said.
Last year’s Big Butterfly Count recorded the lowest number of butterflies ever recorded. As butterflies and moths are an important indicator of the health of our environment, a reduction in their numbers is cause for serious concern.
While land-use change remains the main driver of decline, the impact of climate change on butterflies is also evident in the latest Red List, with the four British butterflies with northern distributions, adapted to cooler climates or wetter, now listed as Threatened (Large Heath, Scotch Argus, Northern Brown Argus) or Near Threatened (Mountain Ringlet).
The Large Heath and Grayling went from Vulnerable to Endangered, and seven species went from Near Threatened to Threatened, including the Magnificent Swallowtail and Adonis Blue.
Two new species have been added for the first time: Scotch Argus, which is listed as Vulnerable, and Dark Green Fritillary, listed as Near Threatened.
However, the listing revealed that this is not bad news for all butterfly species, with some improvement in the status of those that have been the subject of concentrated conservation efforts, offering hope for d other species.
The Big Blue, which became extinct in Britain in 1979 and has been the subject of an intensive, continuous and highly successful reintroduction programme, has gone from a critically endangered species to a near threatened.
The High Brown Fritillary, also formerly listed as critically endangered, has become endangered; likely the result of intense conservation work by Butterfly Conservation alongside other organizations.
The Duke of Burgundy and the Pearl-lined Fritillary, which have also benefited from highly targeted conservation efforts, have both moved from threatened to vulnerable.
“When we are able to target conservation work we have been successful in bringing species back from the brink, but with the risk of extinction increasing for more species than it is decreasing, more needs to be done to protect our butterflies from the effects of changing land management and climate change,” said Dr. Fox.
“Without action, species are likely to disappear permanently from UK landscapes, but Butterfly Conservation is taking bold steps to improve key butterfly landscapes and reduce the risk of extinction for many threatened species.”
Butterfly Conservation tips for attracting butterflies
Butterflies love heat, so choose sunny, sheltered locations when planting nectar plants.
Choose different plants to attract a wider variety of species. Place the same types of plants together in blocks.
Try to provide flowers throughout butterfly season. Spring flowers are vital for butterflies coming out of hibernation, and fall flowers help butterflies build their reserves for the winter.
Extend blooming by clipping flowers, mulching with organic compost, and watering well to keep plants healthy.
Do not use insecticides and pesticides – they kill butterflies and many pollinating insects as well as ladybugs, ground beetles and spiders.
Do not buy peat compost. The bogs are home to many special animals and plants, including the large Heath butterfly, which is in decline across Europe. There are now good alternatives to peat available at garden centres.