Butterfly Conservation (BC) Chief Executive Julie Williams reflects on work to protect butterflies and moths in 2017:
“We have celebrated some important conservation successes this year which will lay the groundwork for helping butterflies and moths both in our urban areas and the wider countryside going forward.
Despite a challenging fundraising climate BC secured £4.4million for our current and future work. We are very grateful to all the funders and individuals who support us so generously. Much of this income was for our work on threatened species, including the Large Blue and Brown Hairstreak in the Poldens, the Drab Looper moth and Duke of Burgundy along the South Downs Way in southern England and a cross-border project that will benefit the Marsh Fritillary in Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and Western Scotland.
Our recording schemes, which collect sightings from tens of thousands of volunteers, are of vital importance as they reveal important information about the changing status of our butterflies and moths and help inform our conservation work. Our data sets are world renowned and to date, we hold more than 60 million records, a truly remarkable accomplishment.
During 2017 BC developed a new Conservation Strategy identifying 26 butterfly and 103 moth species which are the highest priority for action across the UK. The strategy, which will be available early next year, emphasises the need for an increase in our research and policy work particularly for the widespread but declining species like the Small Copper and as part of this, we are expanding our work in urban areas. BC has developed an Urban Butterfly Indicator and we are hopeful that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) will adopt this as an official indicator of the state of the environment.
Building sites for butterflies
Making space or butterflies and moths in the built environment is key to providing widespread species with extra resilience. With this in mind we are extremely excited about a new project that will transform urban areas for Lepidoptera. Launching next year Building Sites for Butterflies is a UK-wide scheme that will work with the landscape and engineering industry to encourage major new infrastructure projects to make room for butterflies and moths by making simple design changes.
There is increasing evidence that access to natural green spaces improves our wellbeing but 80% of the UK population now live in urban areas and do not access nature on a regular basis. Our Urban Butterfly Project in Scotland has the twin aims of improving urban habitats for butterflies and moths, and encouraging urban dwellers to record them. Following on from the success of this project we are currently developing a new project in London to improve its green space for butterflies and moths, the city’s appreciation and enjoyment of wildlife and help contribute to their health and wellbeing.
Growing the evidence base
Last year our scientists continued to gather evidence on the status of butterflies and moths and published several well-received scientific papers including a study on the impacts of climate change on national biodiversity population trends. In collaboration with the Universities of Stirling and Sussex, BC published a paper highlighting the link between the use of neonicotinoid pesticides and the declines of widespread species. We were delighted in November when the Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, revealed that the UK will back a total ban on these insect harming pesticides across Europe.
For the last four years, BC has been working closely with the major non-government species organisations (NGOs). We have developed a number of partnership initiatives including Back from the Brink – a major project to return species back from the brink of extinction.
We have also shared knowledge and expertise on nature reserves and produced a farmland toolkit to encourage farmers to provide for wildlife. This group, Rethink Nature, will continue to work collaboratively to promote the importance of species conservation.
Some 80% of environmental policies in the UK are currently shaped by EU law, including key rules protecting some of our rarest and most vulnerable species and habitats. We are working with Greener UK, the UK Link groups and through Rethink Nature to ensure the existing levels of environmental protection and enforcement are maintained or strengthened as we leave the EU.
Spreading the word
I am personally very proud of our ability to raise awareness of butterflies and moths. During the year we launched a new education project Munching Caterpillars goes to Town with the Somerset and Bristol Branch. This project has reached more than 3,000 children in its first year, across 19 schools and 17 community and public events. Children have attended hands-on workshops or visited the pop-up caterpillar café giving them that first all-important encounter with a caterpillar that might just start a lifelong connection to nature. We are now rolling out the Munching Caterpillar work in Winchester and have plans to develop similar projects in Scotland and other parts of the UK.
With more than 33,000 members our reach and ability to engage continues to grow. We continue to see significant growth across all social media platforms and this summer a record-breaking 60,000 people took part in Big Butterfly Count.
Volunteers are at the heart of BC and in the last year have contributed more 175,000 days of vital effort. This enables us to make greater impact and sustain projects in a way that staff could not do alone. With this in mind we are developing a UK wide project to build volunteer capacity and increase support for our volunteer network which will hopefully start in 2019.
2018: 50 years of Butterfly Conservation
BC is transforming the fate of the UK’s butterflies and moths. Our contribution to leading world class research and comprehensive datasets gives us unique strength, and our engagement is enhanced by our evidenced based approach. 2018 is our 50th anniversary and as we enter this special year we have ambitious plans to deliver our 2025 strategy.
With your support we will do everything in our power to conserve our most threatened species. We will increase our research work and we will continue to raise awareness of how people can help halt the decline of our widespread species. We will inspire the next generation of conservationists by giving more young people the opportunity to connect with nature.