Europe’s grassland butterfly population has dropped dramatically over the past 20 years, according to the European Environment Agency.
The report, released on July 23, shows a decline of almost 50% of the 17 EU butterfly populations between 1990 and 2011: the decline of at least 10 of the species being due to intensive agriculture and mismanagement of grassland ecosystems.
This could have dramatic effects on Europe’s biodiversity as butterflies may be key to maintaining the health of grassland ecosystems.
“This dramatic decline in grassland butterflies should ring alarm bells – in general Europe’s grassland habitats are shrinking. We must recognise the importance of butterflies and other insects – the pollination they carry out is essential for both natural ecosystems and agriculture” said Hans Bruyninckx, the EEA’s executive director.
After birds, butterflies are the EU’s most reliable indicator for the state of its biodiversity due to the detailed long-term data available from across the European Union.
Butterflies examined in the report include Polyommatus Icarus (known as the Common Blue), which has seen a significant decline in numbers, Euphydryas aurinia (the Marsh Fritillary), a grassland specialist species which is also declining, and Anthocharis cardamines (the Orangetip), seemingly stable since 1990. The report flags the over-intensification of agriculture in Western Europe as a major cause of the decline.
The authors also expressed concerns about the abandonment of traditional farmland in southern and eastern Europe as a factor in the degradation of the butterfly’s habitat. In these regions, socio-economic concerns have led farmers to quit their family’s land in the country in order to search for work in cities.
“The Common Agricultural Policy is going into a new seven-year period in which there is more attention for nature but still we think it’s not enough … The EU is doing some things but we could do more, support more local farms” – said Chris van Swaay from Dutch Butterfly Conservation.
Recently, there have also been stark warnings about the potential impacts on biodiversity if the EU’s bee population continues to decline due to agricultural intensification. Particular concerns involve the widespread use of pesticides.