Butterflies 'face wipe-out' as rainy days dampen ardour
RAIN-DRENCHED summers are putting some of Scotland's butterflies under threat of extinction.
When it rains butterflies cannot fly to feed or find a mate, and with last year's summer the wettest since records began, some of Scotland's butterfly populations hit rock bottom. Experts warn some species could be wiped out unless the sun returns this year.
Across Britain butterflies last year suffered their worst year for more than a quarter of a century, according to the UK butterfly monitoring scheme, operated by the charity Butterfly Conservation and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.
The northern brown argus, which likes well-drained sites, and mainly lives in Scotland, had its worst year since 1981, with numbers down 72 per cent.
The Scotch argus, which also lives mainly in Scotland, was down 46 per cent and had its worst year since 1983.
Ian Middlebrook, the butterfly monitoring co-ordinator at Butterfly Conservation, said more rainy summers could be a disaster.
"Butterflies are sun-loving creatures," he said. "They only get a brief window to find a mate, breed and lay eggs, and if it's pouring with rain for those one or two weeks they never get the opportunity to do so."
But it is not all bad news for Scottish butterflies. The spectacular large heath, which lives on bogs and thrives in wet conditions, had its best year since 1984.
"It's better adapted to wet conditions. In this country it's restricted to bogs, mainly in upland areas," said Mr Middlebrook.
Data for the study was collected by thousands of volunteers across the UK.
Other species that suffered badly included the common blue, the grayling, the lulworth skipper, the small skipper, the small tortoiseshell, the speckled wood, the chalkhill blue, the high brown fritillary and the duke of Burgundy.
Now conservationists are waiting to see if Britain's butterflies can recover this year.
Nerys Coward, Butterfly Conservation spokeswoman, said: "We are hoping for a hot summer with a lot less rain. Butterflies are an indicator of the environment, if they are doing badly we really need to worry."
Sir David Attenborough, president of Butterfly Conservation, is promoting the Stop Extinction Appeal to raise funds to help avoid a crisis.
He said: "Some butterflies face possible extinction. Money from Butterfly Conservation's Stop Extinction Appeal will restore countryside for butterflies and other wildlife."
Biodiversity minister Joan Ruddock has promised the government will support schemes to promote a recovery in butterfly numbers.
She said: "Butterflies are a vital element of the British summer. Their numbers indicate whether or not there are problems in the countryside.
"Butterfly populations also indicate the speed and extent of climate change."
This summer may not give butterflies the weather they want. Meteorologists predict it could be as wet as last year, although it could be hotter.
Scottish species at risk
Northern brown argus: A rare butterfly species that lives in Scotland, northern England, Scandinavia and mountainous parts of central Europe and North Africa. It only eats pollen from the common rock rose. It is small and dark brown with orange crescents towards the edge of its wings. It is so scarce it is protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
Scotch argus: Found predominantly in Scotland, in tall, damp grassland. It also lives in two isolated sites in north-west England and in mountainous areas throughout Europe.
It mainly eats pollen from purple moor-grass. It is very dark brown with a row of black eyespots on each wing, which have a white centre and are surrounded by orange.
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Sunday 19 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 16 C
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