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Time for Climate Action in Northern Ireland - Butterfly Conservation

Northern Ireland is a wonderful place, full of beautiful landscapes and special wildlife including 25 species of butterfly and around 1100 species of moth. Sadly, in common with every other part of the planet, our butterflies, moths and other wildlife face the growing threat of climate change.

Holly Blue (female/summer brood) - Iain Leach
Holly Blue (female/summer brood) - Iain Leach

As with any environmental change, there are winners and losers. Research led by the University of York, working with Butterfly Conservation and others, found that species with multiple, rapid breeding cycles and are less fussy about habitat, can do well. They have a chance to build up numbers before winter and then expand their range north. The Holly Blue and Peacock, which have increased in abundance and expanded their ranges, are prime examples of butterflies benefitting from climate change in Northern Ireland.
In contrast, earlier emergences may work against species that are more choosy habitat specialists and only have a single life-cycle in a year. With only one brood, these species do not benefit from the extra time for breeding. Instead, an earlier emergence can put them out of sync with their specific choice of foodplant leading to a reduction in numbers and a shrinking distribution. On top of the pressure of habitat loss, it is no wonder that the single-brooded specialists such as the Marsh Fritillary are struggling.

Later this year is the crucial UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow (COP26). Many Governments have already set targets and made important ‘net zero’ commitments. However, there is still a large gulf between the fine words and action! It is now more than ten years since the UK Climate Change Act and there is no doubt that this was a significant step in the right direction. Unfortunately, in the intervening decade, we still have no equivalent legislation in Northern Ireland. This must be addressed as a matter of the utmost urgency or later this year at COP 26 we risk being embarrassed by our political inaction and lack of leadership.

We urgently need our own Northern Ireland Climate Act. Although we are lagging behind, let’s use what we have learned from others to introduce our own ground-breaking legislation.

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