Dorset colonies among those hit by damp 2012

DECLINE: The Lulworth skipper (picture: Tom Brereton/Butterfly Conservation)

DECLINE: The Lulworth skipper (picture: Tom Brereton/Butterfly Conservation)

First published in News

BUTTERFLIES colonies in Dorset were among those to suffer a 'catastrophic' year, according to a new study out today. (TUES) The UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme by the Dorset-based Butterfly Conservation and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology blamed the drops on one of the wettest years on record.

The Lulworth skipper, which can only be found in Dorset, was among those worst hit in the county along with the marsh fritillary, white-letter hairstreak and many of the more common blue varieties.

Nationally, of 56 butterfly species monitored, 52 saw numbers decline from the previous year, with 13 experiencing their worst year in records dating back to 1976 as the insects struggled to find food and shelter and mate in the washout summer.

Dr Tom Brereton, head of monitoring at the East Lulworth based Butterfly Conservation charity, said that Dorset was one of the most important counties for butterflies in the country.

“Twenty-twelve was a catastrophic year for almost all of our butterflies, halting progress made through our conservation efforts in recent years.

''Butterflies have proved before that given favourable conditions and the availability of suitable habitat they can recover, but with numbers in almost three-quarters of UK species at a historically low ebb any tangible recovery will be more difficult than ever.''

He added: “These figures will go down as official statistics and ministers should get briefed on them.

“Hopefully, it will give more impetus to support conservation efforts in the countryside.”

The Lulworth skipper, which can be found from Swanage to Burton Bradstock, suffered an 88 per cent drop from 1976 to 2012 including a five per cent drop from 2011 to 2012.

The marsh fritillary, which can be found on such Wessex Downs sites as Cerne Abbas, was down by 71 per cent in 2012 compared with 2011.

The white-letter hairstreak was down 86 per cent from 1976 to 2012 and down 72 per cent from 2011 to 2012.

Dr Brereton said: “The Lulworth skipper is going through a particularly bad phase.”

He added that there was always the worry of it dying out as the population was declining so much.

The small tortoiseshell, common whites and the blue family, for which Dorset is a stronghold, also suffered.

Dr Brereton blamed the Gulf Stream moving south from the north sea to the Channel for more rain, wind and cold - with Dorset particularly badly hit.

He urged people to join a conservation charity, volunteer to help in counts and activities or have butterfly friendly and nectar rich plants in their gardens.

This included lavender as well as ivy for the autumn months when nectar is in short supply and to allow butterflies to over-winter in.

Call the Butterfly Conservation charity on 01929 400209 or visit butterfly-conservation.org for more details.

Nationally: The critically endangered high brown fritillary saw numbers fall by 46 per cent on the previous year and the endangered heath fritillary saw numbers halve.

The black hairstreak, one of the UK's rarest species, saw its numbers fall by 98 per cent while other hairstreak species also fared badly, with the green hairstreak down by more than two thirds and the white-letter hairstreak down 71 per cent.

Common species also suffered, with the common blue numbers falling by 60 per cent, brown argus down by almost three quarters at 73 per cent and large skippers down by more 55 per cent in 2012 compared with 2011.

The two 'cabbage white'' species, large and small whites, both saw their numbers collapse by more than half.

The garden favourite the small tortoiseshell saw its populations continue to decline with falls of 37 per cent on 2011 figures.

Only four species saw populations increase in 2012 compared with 2011, including the grass-feeding meadow brown whose numbers rose by a 21 per cent and the Scotch Argus which thrives in damp conditions and saw numbers increase by 55 per cent.

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