Attenborough aghast at global decline of butterfly population

Disappearance of species points to catastrophic environmental damage, says Sir David. Michael McCarthy reports

A A A

Butterfly numbers are declining rapidly all around the world, Britain's leading conservationist, Sir David Attenborough, warns today. The celebrated television presenter is sounding the alarm that butterfly loss, a concern in Britain for decades, has become a global problem, with species disappearing in every continent.

They range from the giant swallowtail of Jamaica to the Atewa dotted border from the Atewa mountains of Ghana, from the Oregon silverspot of America's Pacific coast to the Apollo butterfly of the Alps. And their disappearance is a clear indication, Sir David says, of something going very wrong in the background environment.

He is signalling the threat in a speech to the largest-ever gathering of butterfly experts, who come together today for a three-day symposium in Reading.

"Butterflies are sensitive indicators," Sir David said. "They decline when habitats are destroyed and when man harms the environment. We have known about butterfly losses in Britain for over 50 years. Now there is mounting evidence that it is a global problem."

The symposium, attended by 300 scientists and organised by the British charity Butterfly Conservation, has been called to assess the success of efforts around the world in meeting the United Nations target of halting biodiversity declines by 2010. However, the agenda reflects fears in countries throughout Europe and as far apart as Japan and the United States that there is still a long way to go to achieve this.

"Halting biodiversity loss is the coming decade's great challenge," Sir David said. "It's on a par with getting a man on the moon. An increase in butterfly numbers around the world could be the first indication that we've achieved this goal. Like that first step on the moon, it would be a giant leap for mankind."

Dr Martin Warren, Butterfly Conservation's chief executive, said there was increasing evidence that the problem was a global one. "We have just published a new "red list" of European butterflies showing that around 10 per cent of European butterfly species are facing possible extinction," he said. "We are getting the same message from elsewhere. Symposium delegates come from all six continents and they are all saying the same. Declines on the scale of those occurring in Britain and in Europe are happening in their part of the world too. Habitats are being destroyed; butterflies and other wildlife are in decline."

Dr Warren said that it was already apparent that the 2010 deadline for halting biodiversity loss had not been met. But he added that trying to achieve it had been important. "I think we now know the enormity of the challenge. We must make it a top priority in the coming decade."

Monitoring of butterfly numbers started in the UK in 1976 and has spread around the world. The "red list" of European butterflies, published last week, stated that one species, the Madeiran large white, had already probably become extinct in recent years. Other endangered European butterflies include the Danube clouded yellow, now confined to a few sites in Romania, and the violet copper, a beautiful wetland species that has undergone drastic declines in many countries.

Four British butterflies that are in serious decline at a European level are the large blue (reintroduced after going extinct in the late 1970s), the large heath, the Duke of Burgundy and the Lulworth skipper.

The latter two had their worst ever year in Britain last year, and have declined by 65 per cent and 87 per cent respectively since 2000.

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Cover Supervisor

£75 - £90 per day + negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Are you a cover supe...

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam