Glum in the garden

Red Admiral

If you had the feeling that there weren’t many butterflies on the wing last summer then the results of one of Butterfly Conservation’s major surveys will bear out your suspicions.

To put it simply, 2016 was a bit of a shocker for butterflies. The majority of the UK’s species experienced a fall in numbers with some enduring a truly terrible year.

This miserable outlook was played out dramatically in the UK’s back gardens with some of our most colourful and well known species notable through their absence.

Results from the annual UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme (UKBMS), led by Butterfly Conservation and the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH), paint a sorry tale.

The survey collects sightings from more than 2,500 locations across the UK monitored regularly throughout the butterfly season.

Small Tortoiseshell on UmbelliferSightings of garden regulars the Peacock, Large Skipper, Small Tortoiseshell, Large White, Comma and Holly Blue were all way down on 2015 figures.

The plight of the Small Tortoiseshell in particular is now becoming a real cause for concern. The butterfly was down 47% last year compared to 2015. The Small Tortoiseshell has been in decline for some time and has experienced a highly significant long-term decline of 75% over the last 40 years.

The poor results may come as something of a surprise because much of the UK actually basked in a warm, dry summer for a change.

But it looks like the damage to butterflies was inflicted earlier in the year when a mild winter was followed by a cold spring.

Research suggests that the UK’s increasingly mild winters are having a negative effect on butterflies as they may lead to increased disease, predation or disruption of overwintering behaviour.

Cold springs can also cause problems for butterflies by reducing or delaying emergence and by shortening lifespans.

But one garden favourite bucked the trend to enjoy a spectacular year. The migratory Red Admiral was a common site on buddleias and other nectar sources up and down the UK last year with the butterfly surging in number by 86% compared to 2015. The Red Admiral is something of a butterfly success story increasing by 251% over the last 40 years.

After a run of poor years our butterflies really need 2017 to bring favourable weather conditions so they can attempt to regain lost ground.

Liam Creedon 

Head of Media

Follow me on Twitter @Liamcreedon