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."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
The Manchester United team walk out ahead of the pre-season friendly between Manchester United and Inter Milan at FedExField
News
i100
Life and Style
fashionHealth concerns and 'pornified' perceptions have made women more conscious at the beach
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
News
media
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmHe was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
footballA colourful discussion on tactics, the merits of the English footballer and rebuilding Manchester United
Life and Style
Sainsbury's could roll the lorries out across its whole fleet if they are successful
tech
Travel
The shipping news: a typical Snoozebox construction
travelSpending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette
filmHow live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Account Manager, London

£18000 - £22000 per annum, Benefits: Excellent Uncapped Commission Structure: ...

Sales Executive, London

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Charter Selection: This exciting entertainment comp...

Javascript Developer

£55000 - £75000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: FRONT-END D...

Opportunities for SEN Teachers and Support Staff

£50 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you looking for a new a...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz