Grassland butterflies plummet across Europe

Neil Jones neil at
Fri Dec 10 14:21:19 EST 2010

Butterflies normally found on grassland are in steep decline across 
Europe, pointing to a huge loss of European biodiversity.

This is the conclusion of a new study by Butterfly Conservation Europe 
based on data from 3,000 sites in 15 countries.

The Grassland Butterfly Indicator shows that the populations of 17 
butterfly species have declined by over 70% in the last 20 years. 
Butterflies are sensitive environmental indicators; alerting us to 
underlying problems with the environment. Grasslands are a vital habitat 
for European wildlife and support a huge range of plants and insects. If 
butterfly numbers are falling, inevitably other wildlife is also in 

The losses are thought to have been caused by rapidly changing 
agricultural practices in Europe's diverse semi-natural grasslands. Such 
grasslands have been created by traditional livestock grazing and 
hay-making over centuries of human occupation since the last ice-age. 
This management creates a wonderfully flower-rich breeding habitat for 
butterflies and many other insects. However, in recent decades these 
traditional grasslands have deteriorated, meaning loss due to 
agricultural intensification in some regions and abandonment in others.

The underlying forces behind the losses are rapid economic and social 
changes, which have led to the intensification of better land and the 
abandonment of land with poorer soils and in remote locations. 
Abandonment is thought to be the most serious cause of losses in 
mountain regions and eastern Europe, while lowland areas have suffered 
most from intensification.

Dr Martin Warren, Chief Executive at Butterfly Conservation (UK), said: 
"The results show the dramatic and continuing loss of biodiversity in 
European grasslands. We urgently need a change in EU agricultural policy 
that favours High Nature Value farming rather than over-intensification 
as at present. The results would be better for the environment and 
better from rural communities who are struggling to survive under the 
current system of support which favours larger more intensive producers."

Butterflies are one of the best monitored groups of wildlife in Europe 
and Butterfly Conservation Europe is pressing for them to be adopted as 
agricultural indicators in the next round of Common Agricultural Policy 
reform in 2013.


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