Butterflies face critical year in fight for survival

Sir David Attenborough with a south east Asian Great Mormon Butterfly on his nose. Picture: John Stillwell/PA Wire
Sir David Attenborough with a south east Asian Great Mormon Butterfly on his nose. Picture: John Stillwell/PA Wire
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Sir David Attenborough has warned that butterflies across Scotland face a critical ­summer following a string of poor years that has seen the numbers of many common species crash.

The naturalist and broadcaster, 91, said last year was the fourth worst on record for butterflies, as common Scottish species such as the Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock and Meadow Brown suffered declines, along with the Gatekeeper south of the Border.

But the warm, dry spring and early summer experienced over much of the UK so far this year could offer butterflies some respite – if the good weather continues.

Sir David, who is president of the charity Butterfly Conservation, said: “The next few weeks are a vital period for our butterflies. They need to make the most of this chance to feed and breed. Last year, despite a warm summer, butterflies like the Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock, Meadow Brown and Gatekeeper saw their numbers fall as a warm winter and cold spring led to problems that affected their numbers later on.

“Worryingly, we are now seeing the fortunes of some of our once-common butterflies mirror those of our rarest species and they too are now also suffering significant declines, with butterflies declining more rapidly in urban areas than in the countryside.

“In the last decade our butterflies have experienced several poor years and although resilient, they simply cannot sustain repeated losses, especially if the habitats they need in order to rebuild their populations are also under threat.”

More than three-quarters of the UK’s butterfly species have seen declines over the last 40 years, with some common species such as the Small Tortoiseshell suffering a significant fall. Recent findings show that butterflies are declining more rapidly in urban areas than in the countryside.

Sir David urged people across Scotland to take part in the world’s largest butterfly survey, the Big Butterfly Count, to help reveal how widespread species are faring this summer.

Launching this year’s event, he urged members of the public to spend 15 minutes counting and recording butterflies and day-flying moths between today and 6 August.

Results of the survey will help butterfly scientists find out how butterflies are faring and where conservation efforts should be targeted in the future.

Sir David added: “Taking part in the Big Butterfly Count is good for butterflies and it is also good for us all.

“The count is good for butterflies because your sightings will tell us which species need help and in which areas we need to help them.

“But the Big Butterfly Count is also good for you because 15 minutes spent watching butterflies in the summer sunshine is priceless; spending time with butterflies lifts the spirits and reinvigorates that sense of wonder in the natural world.”

A butterfly conservation day will be held in Stirling on Sunday with further events taking place over the summer at Duthie Park in Aberdeen, Birkshaw Forest near Lockerbie, Paxton House in Berwickshire, and near Melrose in the Borders.

Richard Fox, Butterfly Conservation’s head of recording said: “Simply taking 15 minutes out of your normal day to enjoy the sunshine and count butterflies can help us monitor their populations. It’s a win-win for wildlife.”

Sightings can be submitted online at www.bigbutterflycount.org or via the free Big Butterfly Count app.