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UK butterflies have suffered following the coldest summer for 18 years, the world's biggest butterfly count has revealed.More than 34,000 people took part in the Big Butterfly Count 2011, seeing 322,000 butterflies and day-flying moths.But the survey, by Butterfly Conservation, found that the average number of individual butterflies seen per count was down by 11% compared with last year's figures.The Common Blue butterfly was the biggest loser with numbers down by 61%.The survey also revealed something of a North/South divide for one species with three times as many Small Tortoiseshells recorded per count in Scotland than in England.Hopes had been high for a bumper butterfly summer after parts of the UK basked in a record-breaking warm, dry spring.But the balmy conditions gave way to chilly temperatures and prolonged spells of rain as the summer of 2011 became the coldest since 1993.Butterfly activity is impaired by low temperatures and heavy rain so they are unable to fly, feed, find mates or lay eggs during bad weather.
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 were 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).
Wash Out Summer Hits Moths As National Insect Week begins, Butterfly Conservation and RSPB say their monitoring reveals the number of moths and range of moth species has been especially low during April, May and June, with knock-on effects for other wildlife.In the UK there are around 2,500 species of moth but it's estimated that the range of species being seen regularly in monitoring work over the last quarter has been down by as much as 25 per cent.'These wet months have meant fewer moths around, and the impact of that will be felt'Les Hill of Butterfly Conservation manages the data for the National Moth Recording Scheme. He says: 'June is normally a great time of year for moths, they should be thriving right now both in abundance and in the wide variety of species that are around. But, a wet spring and summer seems to have affected them.'April was almost a complete washout. Where we could expect to be finding a couple of dozen moths of each species every night, we've been lucky to get just one or two individuals of each species, and many moth recorders are reporting the same.'Martin Harper, RSPB Conservation Director, says: 'We'll be looking with interest to see if long-term trends in moth numbers have been affected. But it's certain that these couple of wet months have meant fewer moths around this summer, and the impact of that will be felt among the rest of the wildlife world.'Many other creatures - bats, birds, lizards and hedgehogs among others - eat moths or their caterpillars, so low numbers means less available food for a variety of wildlife. It could also affect wild plants and crops, as moths are important pollinators.Gardens can be made into a more supportive habitat for moths. The RSPB and Butterfly Conservation advise including more native trees and shrubs, with a mixture of flowering herbaceous plants and where possible areas of longer grass. This is good for moths as well as butterflies and a whole variety of other invertebrates.
Washout Summer Hampers Butterflies This wettest summer for a century saw the numbers of many common butterflies fall, the worlds biggest butterfly count has revealed.More than 25,000 people across the UK took part in the Big Butterfly Count 2012, counting over 223,000 butterflies and day-flying moths.But the Butterfly Conservation survey revealed the numbers of 15 of the 21 species studied fell compared with last year’s figures and 11 common butterflies declined by more than one third.Butterfly Conservation is concerned that the wettest summer for 100 years, combined with a poor spring has triggered population crashes and could put some already threatened species at risk.Cold and wet weather is a dangerous double whammy for butterflies – it increases the mortality of caterpillars and also limits the ability of adult butterflies to find mates and lay eggs, which leads to reduced numbers in current and future generations.Most species showed year-on-year decreases. Common Blue numbers fell by 50% and the Speckled Wood was 65% down on last year’s Count.The Red Admiral, which was so abundant last summer, fell back sharply, with numbers down by 72%. All of the white butterflies declined, as did garden favourites such as the Holly Blue and Brimstone.Peacock numbers fell by 89% compared with 2011, but a late emergence of the butterfly in better weather at the end of August and into September may allow some recovery.But it wasn’t all doom and gloom. Meadow Brown counts rose by 186% on 2011 and this grassland species topped the chart for the first time.The Ringlet and Marbled White also did well. Ringlet numbers increased by 354%, seeing the species climb to 3rd most abundant species this year, while Marbled White counts increased by a staggering 503%, rising from 17th position last year to 7th.The Six-spot Burnet moth did well for the second year in succession, reaching 6th place.Richard Fox, Butterfly Conservation’s Surveys Manager said: “The summer of 2012 will be remembered for its awful weather and many of our beautiful butterflies have suffered the full force of torrential rain, strong winds and low temperatures. We’re on track for one of the worst years on record for UK butterflies.“Gardens were bereft of butterflies for much of the summer, robbing people of a quintessential sight of the season.“But, thanks to the efforts of the thousands of people who took part in the Big Butterfly Count, we know that in wilder places with long grass and wildflowers, a few species had a bumper year, perhaps aided by the lush growth of the plants on which their caterpillars feed.“Counts in such places revealed hoards of intricately-marked Ringlets, chequerboard Marbled Whites, darting skippers and Six-spot Burnet moths wrestling for room on flower heads.”For the third year running, the Big Butterfly Count took place in partnership with Marks & Spencer as part of its Plan A commitment to be the world’s most sustainable major retailer by 2015.Richard Gillies, M&S Director of Plan A, said: “We’re really grateful to our customers and employees for playing their part to help butterflies by taking part in this year’s count.“It’s now more important than ever that we all do as much as we can to support the butterfly population - gardens can be the perfect haven for butterflies and we’re launching a butterfly attracting seed mix for our customers to plant, so hopefully next summer there will be gardens across the country ready for butterflies to thrive in.”Results can be found at www.bigbutterflycount.orgBig Butterfly Count 2012 – top 10 species ranking1. Meadow Brown (63,370 seen)2. Gatekeeper (32,432)3. Ringlet (31,437)4. Small White (18,122)5. Large White (15,240)6. Six-spot Burnet (11,728)7 Marbled White (10,218)8. Green-veined White (5,996)9. Large Skipper (5,165)10. Small Tortoiseshell (4,900)
2012: A Disaster Year For UK ButterfliesWashout 2012 was the worst year for UK butterflies on record with 52 out of the 56 species monitored suffering declines, a scientific study today revealed.Some of our rarest species such as the fritillaries bore the brunt of the second wettest year on record and now face the real threat of extinction in some parts of the UK.Last year’s relentless rain and cold created disastrous conditions for summer-species in particular as they struggled to find food, shelter and mating opportunities; butterfly abundance plummeted to a record low as a result and 13 species suffered their worst year on record.The critically endangered High Brown Fritillary fell by 46%, the vulnerable Marsh Fritillary was down 71% and the endangered Heath Fritillary saw its population plummet by 50% in comparison to 2011.Many of our most threatened butterflies were already in a state of long-term decline prior to the 2012 deluge.There are now real fears that these already struggling species could become extinct in some parts of the UK as a result of last year’s wet weather.Hairstreaks did particularly badly last year - the Black Hairstreak, one of the UK’s rarest species, saw its population fall by 98%. The Green Hairstreak was down 68%, the White-letter Hairstreak fell by 72% and the Brown Hairstreak, slipped by 34%.Many common species struggled. The Common Blue plummeted by 60%, the Brown Argus collapsed by 73% and the Large Skipper fell by 55%.The widespread ‘Whites’ including Green-Veined White and the two 'Cabbage Whites', Large White and Small White saw their populations tumble by more than 50%. The Orange-tip fell by 34%.The alarming slide of garden favourite the Small Tortoiseshell continued with its population slipping 37% from 2011 figures.Data was gathered by the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme (UKBMS) jointly led by Butterfly Conservation and the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH).Only four species saw their populations increase. The grass-feeding Meadow Brown was up 21% and the Scotch Argus, which thrives in damp conditions, rose by 55%. Dr Tom Brereton, Head of Monitoring at Butterfly Conservation, said: “2012 was a catastrophic year for almost all of our butterflies, halting progress made through our conservation efforts in recent years.“Butterflies have proved before that given favourable conditions and the availability of suitable habitat they can recover, but with numbers in almost three-quarters of UK species at a historically low ebb any tangible recovery will be more difficult than ever.”UKBMS has run since 1976 and involves thousands of volunteers collecting data every week throughout the summer from more than 1,000 sites across the UK.CEH butterfly ecologist Dr Marc Botham said: “Despite the horrific weather in 2012 over 1,500 dedicated volunteers still managed to collect data from over a thousand sites across the UK. Their amazing efforts enable us to assess the impacts of wet summers on butterfly diversity.”The UKBMS is operated by the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology and Butterfly Conservation and 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 UKBMS is indebted to all volunteers who contribute data to the scheme.