Climate Change is Pushing British Butterflies to the Brink

Scientists are raising the alarm over the future of native butterflies in the UK who won’t be able to withstand the effects of climate change.

According to a study — led by Dr. Tom Oliver and colleagues from the UK’s Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH), Butterfly Conservation, Natural England and the University of Exeter — that was published this week in the journal Nature Climate Change, six species of drought-sensitive butterflies are at serious risk of extinction and could disappear entirely by 2050.

“The results are worrying. Until I started this research, I hadn’t quite realised the magnitude and potential impacts from climate change,” Oliver said in a statement.

The effects of climate change will be particularly felt by drought-sensitive butterflies who won’t be able to adapt quickly enough to withstand a rapidly changing environment and drier weather predicted to come. The six species of butterflies expected to vanish by mid-century even under the best-case emissions scenario include the large skipper, the speckled wood, the green-veined white, the cabbage white, the ringlet and the carbon white.


Large Skipper Butterfly

Losing such seemingly innocuous little creatures might not seem like a huge deal, but butterflies play a vital role in the environment by pollinating plants that feed us and other wildlife, controlling pests, providing food for other animals and acting as the proverbial canary in a coal mine as indicators of healthy ecosystems.

Oliver adds that while they focused on butterflies who are relatively easy to track compared to other species, the results could apply to a variety of others including birds, beetles, moths and dragonflies who will also potentially be affected, further threatening biodiversity.


Speckled Wood Butterfly

In a statement, researchers note there is hope if we act now to seriously reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and combine those efforts with better management of landscapes, particularly focusing on reducing habitat fragmentation to keep these butterflies around, instead of just trying to manage them in small patches of land where they’re found.


Cabbage White Butterfly

They also hope their work will help fuel decisions supporting stronger carbon emission regulations at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris this coming December.

Strong action on our part can’t come soon enough for butterflies in the UK. According to the most recent report from Butterfly Conservation published in 2011, while conservation efforts have helped a few threatened species make a comeback, 72 percent of butterfly species decreased in abundance between 1995 and 2010, while 54 percent decreased in distribution across the UK.

If you live in the UK, check out Butterfly Conservation for ways to help. Tips range from volunteering and participating in citizen science projects to gardening tips that can help butterflies.

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill2 years ago

Bugs all over are disappearing. I believe it is because of the over use of pesticides.

Ricky T.
Ricky T2 years ago

Save these beautiful butterflies.

Quanta Kiran
Quanta Kiran2 years ago


Christine V.
Christine V2 years ago

so sad

Paulinha Russell
Paulinha Russell2 years ago

Thank you

Andria Mercurio
Andria Mercurio2 years ago

Help the animals, help the planet, help yourself. GO VEGAN!

Muriel Servaege
Muriel Servaege2 years ago

Not only British butterflies. Butterflies on the mainland as well.

Naomi Dreyer
Naomi D2 years ago

Another sad story / the butterflys

Muriel Servaege
Muriel Servaege2 years ago

We have never used pesticides or herbicides. We plant for butterflies but their number seems to be plummeting, anyway.