Scotland's soaring butterfly numbers are good news for biodiversity and fans of their 'honest idiocy of flight' – Scotsman comment

The news that the numbers of butterflies in Scotland have soared is absolutely wonderful.

Last year was a good year for butterflies in Scotland, in contrast to the situation in England and Wales where a cold April and wet May hit the species hard (Picture: Iain H Leach/PA Wire)
Last year was a good year for butterflies in Scotland, in contrast to the situation in England and Wales where a cold April and wet May hit the species hard (Picture: Iain H Leach/PA Wire)

At a time when the natural world appears to be in rapid decline, the results of the annual UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme come as a sign of hope, with 12 out of the 24 species assessed showing long-term increases in their populations and just three experiencing statistically significant declines.

The small pearl-bordered fritillary was up 62 per cent in 2021 compared to the year before, the large white butterfly saw a 74 per cent increase, and the wall butterfly’s numbers rose by a whopping 182 per cent – and 7,918 per cent since 1999.

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In contrast, 2021 was a poor year for butterflies in England and Wales, with bad weather in May thought to have played a part, so it would be wrong to suggest all is well.

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That said, the Scottish figures are not just good news for butterflies but also for biodiversity in general, with their abundance a key indicator of the health of an environment.

They also act as pollinators, natural pest controllers, and are an important part of the food chain for birds, bats and other insectivorous animals, according to the charity Butterfly Conservation.

But, apart from these practical considerations, it should also be acknowledged that butterflies are simply a joy for we humans to behold.

As the writer Robert Graves put it, in his poem Flying Crooked, an ode to the cabbage white, they have an “honest idiocy of flight” and a “just sense of how not to fly”.

“Even the aerobatic swift,

Has not his flying-crooked gift.”

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