Butterfly is Back from the Brink
The recovery of a butterfly that was threatened with extinction in Britain 25 years ago is providing a glimmer of hope to conservationists trying to save other species.
The silver-spotted skipper had declined so drastically by 1982 that it was confined to just 68 sites. It has since colonised hundreds of new areas with numbers rising by 1,500 per cent.
The upturn in its fortunes is a result of a concerted conservation campaign, involving thousands of volunteers, to provide it with suitable habitat. Overall butterfly numbers remain well down on those in the 1970s, when the first records started, but the recovery of several species through conservation efforts, partly funded by the Government, provides environmentalists with grounds for optimism.
"The overall picture is bad but I'm slightly more optimistic now than I have been for years," Richard Fox, of the charity Butterfly Conservation, said.
Among those species that are recovering are the large blue, which died out in Britain in 1979. It was reintroduced in the 1980s and is now doing better than at any time over the past half century. There are now 7,000 large blues in ten areas.
The adonis blue has had similar success, with a 63 per cent increase in numbers over the past decade and a 28 per cent increase on the 1970s.
The decline of some species, however, continues in "freefall". One causing concern is the Duke of Burgundy. Its numbers have slumped by 58 per cent in the past decade.
The chequered orange and brown species, which flies for only one week each year, was once common in woodland. But according to Butterfly Conservation, which publishes The State of Butterflies in Britain and Ireland today, changes in land use have restricted it to only five sites in Britain. Matthew Oates, a butterfly expert working at the National Trust, who has studied the Duke of Burgundy for more than 20 years, said:" In recent years these splendid butterflies have gone into sharp decline.
"They survive largely as small populations protected by conservation organisations such as the National Trust. Being ultra-sensitive to change, they'll suffer badly if summers get warmer and droughts more frequent." The small blue is another species apparently “spiralling to oblivion”. In the past five years it has been wiped out in Northern Ireland and southern Scotland. Similarly, the pearl-bordered fritillary is 66 per cent down on the numbers of 30 years ago and 30 per cent down on the past decade. Barry Gardiner, the newly appointed Biodiversity Minister, endorsed efforts to save Britain's butterflies from decline.
"It's only through the work and time given by ordinary people that we are making a difference, and I want to thank the thousands of volunteers who have been involved in this project and who continue to give their time to schemes like this," he said.
He added that the Government had assisted conservation projects by funding schemes to promote less intensive farming practices. While welcoming the reversal in fortunes for the silver-spotted skipper as "exciting and encouraging", he said:" There is still a long way to go."