Butterfly numbers in the UK are in decline

Butterfly numbers in the UK are in decline, and yet again it seems agriculture is to blame. Since 1990, butterfly numbers have declined by 27 per cent in farmland and by 58 per cent in woods, the government report found. The Common Blue (pictured) is one in decline
Butterfly numbers in the UK are in decline due to poor land management, a new report has warned.

Since 1990, butterfly numbers have dropped by 27 per cent in farmland and by 58 per cent in woods, the government study found.

In response to the report, charities have claimed that reform is needed to the country's farming laws in order to protect the environment in the wake of Brexit.

They say the latest figures offer more evidence to support expert predictions of an 'ecological Armageddon'.

The report was published this week by the Department for environment, food and rural affairs (Defra).

Species in long-term decline on farmland include the gatekeeper, large skipper and small tortoiseshell.

Woodland species that are struggling include the brown argus, common blue, peacock and purple hairstreak.

The report blames the dwindling numbers of butterflies on the 'lack of woodland management and loss of open spaces in woods.'

However, the report neglects to provide an explanation for the drop in the number of farmland species.

Conservation groups have placed the blame on the shoulders of farmers, citing pesticide use and the loss of wild areas as the main antagonists.


This startling long-term drop in butterfly numbers comes after it was found that in 2017, numbers of the insects increased slightly.

Nigel Bourn, director of science at Butterfly Conservation, told The Times that keeping perspective is crucial, and we should not let last year's positive result skew our thinking.

'That the worst five years ever for butterflies have all been in the last decade should ring major alarm bells,' he explained.

Following the report's publication, a total of 18 conservation and environmental group responded, calling for widespread changes to environmental policy.

Species in long-term decline on farmland include the gatekeeper, large skipper and small tortoiseshell (pictured).

Species in long-term decline on farmland include the gatekeeper, large skipper and small tortoiseshell (pictured). The report itself neglects to provide an explanation for the drop in the number of farmland species
Woodland species that are struggling include the brown argus, common blue, peacock (pictured)

Woodland species that are struggling include the brown argus, common blue, peacock (pictured) and the purple hairstreak. The report blames the dwindling numbers of butterflies on the 'lack of woodland management and loss of open spaces in woods'
They claim that butterflies, bees and other insects are particularly vulnerable as rules and regulations change following the UK's withdrawal from the EU.

Bees have provided a high-profile example of the dangers insects face as agriculture encroaches on their lives.

Earlier this year, European Union member states decided on a ban on the outdoor use of 'neonicotinoid' pesticides after an assessment by the European Food Safety Authority (Efsa) confirmed in February the dangers they posed to bees.

Years of research found that under controlled conditions the chemicals are toxic to honey bees and bumblebees.

Last year, Professor Dave Goulson, at Sussex University, warned the world is 'on course for ecological armageddon'.

The comment was made after a study revealed the number of flying insects has fallen by three-quarters over the past 27 years.

Researchers in Germany have documented a steep decline at dozens of nature reserves.

Their findings have sparked fears the foodchain will collapse because insects are important pollinators and serve as meals for birds and other small creatures.

It is thought the decline may be caused by agricultural pesticides used to stop insects eating crops.

They cause brain damage that can affect learning and memory and impair their ability to forage for nectar and pollen.


Environmental charities claim that butterflies, like the iconic Gatekeeper butterfly (pictured)

Environmental charities claim that butterflies, like the iconic Gatekeeper butterfly (pictured), bees and other insects are particularly vulnerable as rules and regulations change following the UK's withdrawal from the EU
Hilary McGrady, director-general of the National Trust, said that recent government proposals were a step forward, but 'we need to see ideas enshrined in law'.

The National Trust was just one of the high-profile charities to respond to the worrying report.

Others included: RSPB, WWF-UK, Friends of the Earth and The Rivers Trust.

The group points to the link between declining animal numbers are declining farming profitability.

The farming industry made £2.53 billion in 2016, compared to £4 million in 2013.

Collectively, they are lobbying for environmental policy to take priority ad the government continues to thrash out the details of the upcoming agriculture bill.

In a post-Brexit Britain, this will dictate the details of the country's policy and the charities also want a specific environment act in place.

A Defra spokesman said: 'The common agricultural policy has not done enough to encourage behaviour that is beneficial to wildlife.

'Leaving the EU gives us the chance to change this and we have set out proposals to reward farmers for their work to protect and enhance wildlife.'