Article written by Sam Ellis.

With travel restrictions in place during 2020 and much of 2021, Butterfly Conservation has been exploring ways in which it can still work in partnership with our international colleagues to conserve butterflies and moths across the globe.

Anyone who travels to Europe and photographs butterflies can make significant contributions to their conservation by turning their observations into records. These can be submitted directly to online national recording schemes, where they exist, or indirectly through contacts developed by our European Butterflies Group (EBG) – but there are many gaps.

Fortunately, international recording platforms such as Observado and iNaturalist exist to fill such gaps in coverage. BC has worked closely with EBG developing advice on how to use them, including how to upload large historical datasets to Observado via a spreadsheet. To find out more about this, visit the EBG website.

Grecian Copper
Grecian Copper (Photo: Dan Danahar)

Butterfly Conservation Europe (BCE), of which BC and EBG are key partners, has been actively promoting the establishment of butterfly monitoring schemes in Europe for many years. It does this through its Assessing ButterfLies in Europe (ABLE) project (see Butterfly autumn 2020) and, most recently, via a new Strengthening Pollinator Recovery through Indicators and monitoring (SPRING) project, which also ambitiously aims to establish European monitoring schemes for other pollinators.

SPRING aims to establish butterfly monitoring in the six remaining EU countries without a scheme: Denmark, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and Slovakia. Data from all countries are collated by the European Butterfly Monitoring Scheme (eBMS), which plays a vital role developing indicators that are used to influence land management across the EU.

Scarce Fritillary
Scarce Fritillary (Photo: Sam Ellis)

Recording is key

Recording and monitoring programmes are the foundation stones of conservation. They are an essential first step in identifying which species are most threatened at country, continental or global scales. Thanks to EU funding, BC is pleased to be working alongside the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), de Vlinderstichting (Dutch Butterfly Conservation) and BCE to produce Europe’s first-ever Red List of Moths (focusing on around 3,000 macro-moths, for which most data are available) and to revise the European Red List of Butterflies (nearly 500 species).

The aim is to identify those species most at threat (Vulnerable, Endangered or Critically Endangered) at both pan-European and EU levels. Major threats to these species will be identified, and actions proposed to address them, with the results published in 2024.

For the purposes of Red Lists, the Macaronesian Islands are considered part of Europe and, while they support relatively few species, several are endemics and among the most threatened butterflies on the continent. Thanks to EU LIFE4BEST funding, BCE, in partnership with Madeira Flora and Fauna, has been running a project targeting three highly threatened Madeiran endemics: the Endangered Madeiran Brimstone and Madeiran Speckled Wood and the Critically Endangered Madeiran Large White.

Intensive surveys sampling the pristine laurel forests took place in 2021 using the ‘15-minute count’ method developed by eBMS, as well as drones for less accessible areas. The Madeiran Speckled Wood was still found in some abundance, but wherever it was recorded so was the invasive Speckled Wood, which may be having a long-term impact on the former. Madeiran Brimstone was much more restricted in its distribution, almost certainly because its larval host plant Rhamnus glanduolsa was also quite rare.

Sadly, not a single Madeiran Large White was seen and, since it was last recorded in 1986, must be presumed extinct – the first European butterfly in this unenviable category. The project aims to establish a Madeira Butterfly Monitoring Scheme, run public outreach, volunteer training and educational programmes, and produce Species Action Plans. We hope to start ambitious conservation programmes to ensure these species are around for future generations.

Zygaena Fausta (Photo: Sam Ellis)
Zygaena fausta (Photo: Sam Ellis)

Further afield

Beyond Europe we are building partnerships with many other organisations that we hope will lead to more projects. One that could be really significant is our long-term ambition to help establish a global butterfly monitoring scheme, bringing together data from all the continents and collected using different methods (eg fruit bait traps) to our transects and timed counts. Butterfly Conservation is working with partners from the IUCN Butterfly and Moth Specialist Group, BCE, de Vlinderstichting, the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology and the Zoological Society of London.

If it can be funded, we can look forward to developing a Global Butterfly Index, enabling invertebrate data to be included in the Living Planet Index for the first time.

Madeiran Specked Wood
Madeiran Specked Wood (Photo: Sam Ellis)

How to help

None of these projects would progress without recording and monitoring data. So, if you decide to travel abroad this summer, why not turn your observations and photographs into vital records, or try out the new ButterflyCount app and do some 15-minute counts? Every record really does matter!

To get started, visit the Butterfly Monitoring website.