Cold sees butterflies suffer worst year on record

IT is unmistakable for its bright, copper-coloured forewings.

The Small Copper butterfly has joined the list of UK butterflies suffering significant declines. Picture: Bob Eade/Butterfly Conservation/PA Wire

But the small copper has joined a growing list of UK butterflies suffering significant declines, as the insect suffered its worst year on record.

A cooler-than-average summer last year saw the small copper butterfly’s numbers fall by almost a quarter compared with 2014, the Butterfly Conservation and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology found.

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Relatively poor weather in recent years has seen the butterfly suffer a bad run, a situation which comes on top of declines caused by the widespread loss of its traditional meadow habitat. The majority of widespread and specialist butterflies studied struggled last year as a result of the dry spring followed by the coldest and wettest summer for three years.

The small copper was not the only butterfly to suffer its worst year on record, with the scarce heath fritillaries seeing numbers drop 16 per cent to all-time lows.

Rare British swallowtails had the biggest year-on-year decline, with numbers down almost two thirds compared with 2014, while both small tortoiseshells and wall butterflies fell 44 per cent.

Dr Tom Brereton, head of monitoring at Butterfly Conservation, said: “In recent years it has become apparent that some of our most familiar and cherished butterflies are declining substantially. Sadly, our latest results show that the diminutive but stunning small copper can be added to this list.”