Butterflies Are Going Extinct at Alarming Rate – Why? What Can We Do?


Did you take part in the Big Butterfly Count last year? The butterfly count is an event that is organised for the purpose of identifying and counting butterflies in a specific geographical area. The next Big Butterfly Count will begin on Friday 15th July 2022 and run until Sunday 7th August. You can download the charts in advance.

The Big Butterfly Count is a nationwide citizen science survey aimed at helping us assess the health of our environment. It was launched in 2010 and has rapidly become the world’s biggest survey of butterflies. 

Butterflies Are Going Extinct at Alarming Rate - Why? What Can We Do?

Butterflies Are Going Extinct at Alarming Rate – Why? What Can We Do?

Why is it importrant?

Based on the previous years’ observations, data gathered through the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme and Butterflies for the New Millennium recording scheme , Butterfly Conservation is warning that butterflies are going extinct and time is running out to save some of Britain’s best-loved insects, with the latest Red List assessment of butterflies published this week, revealing a 26% increase in the number of species threatened with extinction.

The  most important observations are:

  • 24 species of butterfly are now listed as threatened. Including 8 that are endangered; representing a substantial increase compared with the previous assessment.
  • The risk of extinction is increasing for more species
  • Half of British butterfly species on the new Red List

The reasons for this are primarily the land-use as it remains including farming practices and usage of pesticides, as well as the impact of climate change on butterflies is also evident in the new Red List.

What is the Red List?

Red Lists are to highlight species at risk of extinction. The Red List process developed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) sets the global standard for assessing extinction risk. Species are ranked on the basis of extinction risk in the order Critically Endangered, Endangered, Vulnerable, Near Threatened, Least Concern.

The last Red List of British butterflies was published in 2010, but was based on an assessment several years earlier using trends up to the year 2004. The new Red List uses data and trends to 2019.

The production of the new Red List of British butterflies has been led by Butterfly Conservation with input and funding from Natural England, and the full scientific paper can be found here: https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12582

Comparison with previous the Red List

Regionally Extinct – Remained unchanged since 2011 – 4 butterfly species

Critically Endangered – from 0 to 2 species since 2011

Endangered – Remained unchanged since 2011 – 8 butterfly species

Vulnerable – from 9 to 16 species since 2011 (a huge jump unfortunately)

Near Threatened from 28 to 29 species since 2011

Butterflies Are Going Extinct at Alarming Rate - Why? What Can We Do?

There is some positive news too though

There is still some hope for species that have been the focus of intense conservation work and have been brought back from the brink of extinction. This means, other species can be recovered too. For example The Large Blue, which became extinct in Great Britain in 1979 and has been the subject of an intensive, ongoing, and highly successful reintroduction programme, has moved from Critically Endangered to Near Threatened. Or The Duke of Burgundy and Pearl-bordered Fritillary, which have also benefitted from much targeted conservation effort, both moved from Endangered to Vulnerable.

The bottom line is unfortunately, that without action it is likely that species will be lost. The Butterfly Conservation works hard to stop however there are other changes necessary. 

Halting climate change and changing farming practices are also essential to the butterflies survival.

What can we do?

We can all do something! 

  • Spread the word! People are becoming more aware that butterflies are going extinct, and are demanding action as a result.
  • If you have a garden, plant bee and butterfly friendly plants and flowers. It will attract them to your garden where they can recharge, feed and breed.
  • If you don’t have a garden, just a balcony, or not even that, you can still help by putting a window box out or looking after communal gardens.
  • Take part in guerilla gardening.
  • Take part in the Big Butterfly Count.
  • Support conservation charities.
  • You can even rear caterpillars. Well, it’s definitely a good science project to teach the kids about butterflies.

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