2020 hailed as a ‘good’ year for butterflies - but conservation scientists warn that our view of what is ‘good’ might be shifting
While last year may have been a particularly tough one for humans, 2020 was officially a ‘good’ year for butterflies according to the latest results from the annual UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme (UKBMS) led by Butterfly Conservation, the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH), British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC). However, as butterfly declines continue, conservation scientists are considering how the view of what makes a good year has changed.
Butterfly Conservation’s Associate Director of Recording and Monitoring, Dr Richard Fox, explains: “Perhaps because of the warm sunny spring weather last year and the fact that more people were enjoying nature as part of their day-to-day activities than ever before, butterflies seemed more numerous. But in fact, our baseline experience of the nature around us has changed over time.
“The meticulously gathered UKBMS data show that it was the third good year in a row for the UK’s butterflies, ranking 10th best (averaged across all species) since the scheme began in 1976. Nevertheless, almost half of our butterfly species (27 of 58 species) were recorded in below average numbers last year.
“It is worrying that, even after three good years, population levels of so many butterfly species continue to be down compared to 40 years ago, with just under a third (31%) of butterfly species assessed in the UK showing long-term declines.
“We need to be wary of shifting baseline syndrome, whereby we forget (or never experienced) the greater biodiversity that occurred in the UK in former decades and therefore lower our expectations and aspirations for conservation. Here the UKBMS has a vital role to play in showing how insect populations have declined over time.”