Conservation experts are blaming the poor weather during last year’s Summer months for the dramatic decline of the Small Copper butterfly.
This butterfly is usually widespread across Ireland and the UK, and can sometimes be seen in gardens. But alarms bells are ringing after the annual UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme (UKBMS) found that 2015 numbers for the Small Copper had plummeted by almost a quarter compared to 2014.
Small Copper hit
The survey findings, led by Butterfly Conservation and the UK’s Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH), appear to indicate that last year’s cooler than usual Summer took a toll on the Small Copper, which had previously suffered because of loss of habitat.
The dry Spring was followed by the coldest and wettest Summer for three years, resulting in the decline of some 34 of the 57 butterfly species monitored by the scheme. Other widespread butterflies to suffer included the ever-popular Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell, down 21% and 44% respectively.
Cherished butterflies in trouble
Dr Tom Brereton, Head of Monitoring at Butterfly Conservation, is expressing concern that our “most familiar and cherished butterflies are declining substantially”.
“Sadly, our latest results show that the diminutive but stunning Small Copper can be added to this list,” he says.
Cold weather blamed
“2015 was a mixed year. Much of the summer was cooler than average resulting in annual declines in many species. Some species had a good year emphasising the complex relationship between weather and annual fluctuations in butterfly populations,” says Dr Marc Botham, Butterfly Ecologist at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology.
According to Biodiversity Ireland, the 34 species of butterfly found in Ireland are “increasingly under threat from environmental change”.
We should all care about the future of butterflies, not just for their aesthetic value, but because their presence is an indicator of a healthy environment and they also act as pollinators, although not as efficiently or effectively as bees.
acting to save butterflies
Over the coming months, Butterfly Conservation Ireland is hosting a series of events, including walks and talks, on butterflies for those interested in becoming involved and in learning more about the country’s various butterfly species.
The National Biodiversity Data Centre is also holding monitoring scheme workshops for those interested in helping build up a picture of how butterflies, and bumblebees, are faring.
Meanwhile, Butterfly Conservation Northern Ireland’s website features plenty of information on events, details of monitoring schemes, and ways that the public can become involved in providing practical help for butterflies and moths, including creating a butterfly fuel station in the garden!