Butterflies in sharp decline in Northern Ireland, report says

There are concerns that the wall butterfly is going extinct in Northern Ireland

One of Northern Ireland’s butterflies appears to be on the brink of extinction while others are struggling, according to a report.

But a species only found in Northern Ireland, the Cryptic Wood White, is doing better.

Scientists have warned that time is running out to halt the decline of butterflies across the UK.

A charity involved in the report, Butterfly Conservation, has called for specific action and more resources.

Butterflies are considered a barometer of climate change and habitat loss, as they react quickly to any change in their ecosystem.

The UK’s first State of Butterflies report since 2015 showed that 80% of species were declining in abundance, distribution or both in the last 50 years.

There are 59 species of breeding butterflies in the UK.

‘Sharp decline’

Many, though not all, of the species found in Northern Ireland have been monitored for reporting.

It shows a 17% decline in abundance and a 10% decline in butterfly distribution.

There are concerns that the Wall butterfly is going extinct, with the report saying it was in “precipitous decline.”

Only three sightings of that butterfly have been reported, all off the County Down coast, in the space of five years.

Another butterfly, the Small Heath, has lost 40% of its range since 1995.

The Holly Blue butterfly can be seen in Northern Ireland

The Holly Blue butterfly can be seen in Northern Ireland

But there have been improvements in the numbers of some species.

The dark green fritillary, silver fritillary and holly blue have spread across Northern Ireland thanks to the availability of suitable habitat.

And Cryptic Wood White has shown an improvement in his numbers since previous evaluations.

Julie Williams, chief executive of Butterfly Conservation, said the report showed compelling evidence of the decline of nature in the UK.

“We need fast and effective action on this,” he said.

“The decline in butterflies we have seen in our own lifetimes is shocking and we can no longer stand by and watch the UK’s biodiversity being destroyed.”

Climate change

The report was compiled by Butterfly Conservation, the UK Center for Ecology and Hydrology and the British Trust for Ornithology.

Nearly 23 million butterfly records were collected, mostly by people involved in the UK Butterfly Monitoring scheme and the Butterflies for the New Millennium scheme.

The amount of recording has allowed the data to be broken down across the four UK nations.

Only Scotland has shown long-term increases, with butterflies in England faring the worst.

The report’s authors say more data is needed to assess trends in some of Northern Ireland’s rarest and most threatened species, which are experiencing further declines across the UK.

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