Suffolk’s soggy spring sparks new fears for butterflies

Grayling butterflies, found on Suffolk coastal heaths and in the Brecks, suffered in 2017's poor wea

Grayling butterflies, found on Suffolk coastal heaths and in the Brecks, suffered in 2017's poor weather. Picture: PATRICK CLEMENT/BUTTERFLY CONSERVATION - Credit: Archant

Butterfly Conservation reveals problems faced in 2017, and this spring follows suit

Grizzled skipper struggled nationally in 2017 - it is, at best, extremely rare in Suffolk. Picture:

Grizzled skipper struggled nationally in 2017 - it is, at best, extremely rare in Suffolk. Picture: MARK SEARLE/BUTTERFLY CONSERVATION - Credit: Archant

East Anglia’s current spell of grey and gloomy weather may be dispiriting for people but it’s likely to be distinctly damaging for some of the region’s butterflies.

The much-loved harbingers of spring have been in short supply recently and a repeat of the poor weather that was experienced around the same time in 2017 is likely to add to the mounting problems butterflies have faced in a succession of recent years.

The charity Butterfly Conservation, a partner ina major monitoring scheme, today reveals data for last year that shows how serious the situation is for a host of species, many of which are found in East Anglia.

It highlighted the plight of two nationally declining species that suffered their worst year on record in 2017 as hopes of a butterfly revival were dashed by a cold spell in spring and a gloomy, wet summer. Grayling, a species of Suffolk’s coastal heaths and the Brecks, and the grizzled skipper, a county rarity that may have been lost altogether, recorded their lowest numbers since UK records began, the charity said.

Red admirals increased in 2017 by 78% over their 2016 numbers. Picture: DAVID LAMMING

Red admirals increased in 2017 by 78% over their 2016 numbers. Picture: DAVID LAMMING - Credit: David Lamming


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There had been hopes that UK butterflies would bounce back after the summer of 2016, the fourth worst on record. Although butterfly numbers last year were up on 2016, they were still “way below average” with 2017 being the seventh worst year on record, the annual UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme, revealed.

Grizzled skipper and grayling had their worst year on record for the second year running. The former was down 9% compared to 2016 and its population has now more than halved since the 1970s. Grayling declined by 6% compared to 2016 - its numbers have shrunk by 63% over the last decade.

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Even more familiar and widespread butterflies suffered. The once-common large white saw its numbers tumble by 19%, small white was down 16% and green-veined white down 2%, the charity said.

The second half of last summer was cloudier and wetter than average, causing further problems for species already struggling from habitat loss and climate change.

White admirals bounced back in 2017, a new report shows. The species is being seen with increasing f

White admirals bounced back in 2017, a new report shows. The species is being seen with increasing frequency in Suffolk. Picture: MICHAEL LINGLEY - Credit: citizenside.com

Some species did enjoy a better year than 2016, however. Among them, the red admiral was up 78% compared to 2016 and comma numbers rose by 91% compared to 2016. The rare white admiral - now increasingly found in Suffolk woodlands - bounced back following a “terrible” 2016 with an annual increase of 157%.

Prof Tom Brereton, associate director of monitoring at Butterfly Conservation, said: “There is little comfort in these results for the UK’s hard-pressed butterflies. 2017 was the seventh worst in the 42-year series and makes it five below average years in a row. On the positive side, there is much good conservation work happening across the country, which will aid any recovery should we get a helping hand with the weather.”

The monitoring scheme has run since 1976 and involves thousands of data-collecting volunteers. Last year a record 2,693 sites were monitored across the UK. The scheme is organised and funded by Butterfly Conservation, the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, the British Trust for Ornithology and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee.

Commas increased by 91% nationally in 2017 in comparison with their 2016 numbers. Picture: ROBERT Mc

Commas increased by 91% nationally in 2017 in comparison with their 2016 numbers. Picture: ROBERT McKENNA - Credit: robert mckenna

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