Doomsday for butterflies as Britain warms up

A A A

At least 30 of Britain's butterfly species face extinction or an alarming drop in numbers because they are failing to cope with the effects of global warming.

At least 30 of Britain's butterfly species face extinction or an alarming drop in numbers because they are failing to cope with the effects of global warming.

A team of seven biologists and ecologists has warned that the numbers of some internationally rare species, such as the Large Heath and Purple Emperor butterflies, will fall by up to 77 per cent. Eventually, they could be wiped out.

Their study, published by the Royal Society, is one of the most pessimistic assessments yet about the impact of climate change on Britain's butterfly population. It contradicts the widespread belief that native butterflies will prosper in a warmer climate, expanding their range northwards and enjoying much longer summers.

"There's no silver lining in this data," said Richard Fox, a co-author of the study and spokesman for the Butterfly Conservation Society. "What we will see here is a retreat and, potentially, a mass extinction in the slightly longer term, of many of our familiar species."

Over the past few years, Red Admirals, Orange-tips and Small Tortoiseshells have been seen earlier in the spring and surviving for several weeks longer each autumn – suggesting that butterflies would generally benefit from climate change.

However, the researchers, led by Dr Jane Hill, a biologist at York University, noticed that many more butterflies had failed to spread during the 1990s, even though average temperatures were beginning to rise.

Disturbed by these results, they re-examined data collected by the Butterfly Conservation Society and the latest computer models on climate change to assess exactly how well 35 butterfly species could survive over the next 100 years.

They found that a few species, such as the Ringlet and the Marbled White, were already prospering, moving northwards and further up-hill as the summers became warmer during the 1990s. But for the vast majority of those studied, the situation will be more serious.

As climate change takes hold over coming decades, northern species living in northern England and Scotland, including the Western Isles, and will lose two-thirds of their habitats. In southern England, butterflies will lose a quarter of their habitats.

For some species, the future is particularly stark. Along with the Purple Emperor and Large Heath butterflies, the Mountain Ringlet, a small, rare butterfly which lives in Scotland, will lose 69 per cent of its habitats. The Black Hairstreak, a very rare species mostly confined to the East Midlands, will lose at least half of its normal habitats.

The Marsh Fritillary, which is regarded as the most important butterfly in Britain because of its rarity, will lose nearly a third of its already scarce habitats on Scottish islands such as Islay and on Salisbury Plain.

"We know from the work we've done that the vast majority of butterflies haven't responded in a positive way to climate change so far," Mr Fox said.

"We may get some butterflies from the south colonising us, but what this paper shows is that our butterflies are going to become much, much rarer."

Life and Style
food + drink
Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
News
UK Border Control
i100
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office Junior / Assistant

£7800 - £13455 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A career opportunity has become ...

Recruitment Genius: Product Advisor - Automotive

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to the consistent growth of...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Automotive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity exists for an ex...

Recruitment Genius: Renewals Sales Executive - Automotive

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity exists for an ou...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn