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Small Tortoiseshell Slide Continues

by Butterfly Conservation
Date: 01/06/2012

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Butterfly numbers in the UK countryside fell by almost a quarter last summer, according to a new scientific study.

The Wider Countryside Butterfly Survey (WCBS) revealed that butterflies suffered a disappointing 2011 compared to 2010 with recorders seeing 22% fewer butterflies on average.

Last year’s record-breaking cold summer and the ongoing deterioration of suitable butterfly habitat across the countryside are seen as causes for the fall in numbers.

Garden favourite the Small Tortoiseshell was one of the species badly affected, with less than one seen per kilometre walked on average in the countryside.

Such low numbers are a cause for concern given that less than a decade ago the butterfly was likely to be seen in almost every garden and flowery place through the summer months.

The drop in Small Tortoiseshell sightings from the WCBS mirrors an alarming and ongoing decline for this once ubiquitous species. This is the first time that a comprehensive survey has shown how few are now found across the countryside as a whole.

The WCBS involves counting butterflies in more than 700 randomly generated 1km-squares across the UK countryside.

The scheme helps assess the health of butterfly populations across the wider countryside, rather than specially managed hotspots such as nature reserves.

Last year, recorders saw on average 47 butterflies from seven species per-survey made over July and August.

This represents a 22% reduction in numbers from 2010 and an alarming 41% reduction from 2009 when recorders saw an average of 80 butterflies and eight species.

There were 43 visits where recorders saw no butterflies at all - double the 2010 figure.

The Common Blue also struggled in 2011; the butterfly was present in only one-third of squares compared to over half in 2010.

The Wall declined in distribution for the third consecutive year with this once common species now largely absent from central England.

The Meadow Brown was the most widespread and abundant species, being found in more than 80% of squares.

WCBS Co-ordinator Dr Zoë Randle said: “The new survey is proving vital in getting better information on how our common butterflies are faring across the countryside as a whole".

The gloomy results show we need to step up efforts to rebuild a better countryside for butterflies.”

Kate Risely, Breeding Bird Survey Organiser at the BTO added: "“It is important to carefully monitor the numbers of our wider countryside butterfly species in order to detect potential threats to their populations."

Results from the upcoming 2012 survey and in years to come will show whether these declines are sustained. We're very pleased that bird surveyors can contribute to butterfly recording, highlighting the value of dedicated naturalists in our society.”

The WCBS is run by Butterfly Conservation, the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and the NERC Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) as part of the United Kingdom Butterfly Monitoring scheme (UKBMS).

CONTACTS For interview requests and images contact the Butterfly Conservation Press Office on 01929 406005 and to contact the BTO:

The WCBS is funded by a multi-agency consortium including the Countryside Council for Wales, Defra, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Forestry Commission, Natural England, the Natural Environment Research Council and Scottish Natural Heritage. The WCBS is indebted to all volunteers who contribute data to the scheme.

Butterfly Conservation is the largest charity of its type in the world. Our aim is the conservation of butterflies, moths and their habitats. We run conservation programmes for more than 100 threatened species and manage over 30 nature reserves.

The BTO is the UK’s foremost independent bird research organisation and organises a range of annual and periodic surveys, mainly on birds, and including the BTO/JNCC/RSPB Breeding Bird Survey. Information on population trends in birds and other wildlife are provided on our website ( and you can follow the latest news and developments via twitter @_BTO.

The NERC Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) is the UK’s Centre of Excellence for integrated research in the land and freshwater ecosystems and their interaction with the atmosphere. CEH is part of the natural Environment Research Council, employs more than 450 people at four major sites in England, Scotland and Wales, hosts over 150 PhD students and has an overall budget of £35m. CEH tackles complex environmental challenges to deliver practicable solutions so that future generations can benefit from a rich and healthy environment. You can follow the latest developments in CEH research via twitter @CEHScienceNews and our rss news feed

If you have any questions or require more information about this press release, please contact Butterfly Conservation by email.

About Our Press Releases

Butterfly Conservation Warwickshire regularly issue press releases on issues in relation to butterfly and moth conservation in the Coventry, Warwickshire and Solihull area alongside occasional press releases covering national stories from Butterfly Conservation's head office.

If you require further information about a specific press release, please contact the specific press release author.

Press Release Archive

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Notes For Editors
Butterfly Conservation is the largest conservation charity of its type in Europe with over 13,000 members in the UK. Its aim is the conservation of butterflies, moths and their habitats. It runs conservation programmes on over 60 threatened species of butterfly and moth, organises national butterfly recording and monitoring schemes, and manages over 30 nature reserves.

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