'Time is running out' as half of British butterflies now added to red list

Credit - Butterfly Conservation/ Gilles San Martin
The risk of extinction is increasing for more species than decreasing. Credit: Butterfly Conservation/ Gilles San Martin

Time is running out for British butterflies, according to a Dorset charity, as it says half of butterfly species are on its new 'red list.'

Wildlife charity Butterfly Conservation says there has been a 26% increase in the number of species that are now threatened with extinction.

Twenty-four species are now listed as threatened, including eight that are endangered. That represents a substantial increase compared with the previous assessment.

Head of Science for Butterfly Conservation, Dr Richard Fox, says: "Shockingly, half of Britain's remaining butterfly species are listed as threatened or near threatened on the new red list.

The Chalkhill Blue butterfly is vulnerable. Credit: Butterfly Conservation/ Iain H Leach

"Even prior to this new assessment, British butterflies were among the most threatened in Europe, and now the number of threatened species in Britain has increased by five, an increase of more than one-quarter.

"While some species have become less threatened, and a few have even dropped off the red list, the overall increase clearly demonstrates that the deterioration of the status of British butterflies continues apace."

The new red list assesses all the butterfly species that have bred regularly in Great Britain against the criteria of extinction risk set out by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Of the 62 species assessed, four are extinct in Britain; the Black-veined White, Large Tortoiseshell, Large Copper, and Mazarine Blue.

Meanwhile 24 are classed as threatened, with eight endangered, 16 vulnerable, and a further five near threatened.

The Grayling is endangered. Credit: Butterfly Conservation/ Iain H Leach.

It isn't bad news for all butterfly species though, with some improvement in status for those that have been the focus of concentrated conservation effort, offering hope for other species.

The Large Blue, for example, which became extinct in Great Britain in 1979 and has been the subject of an intensive, ongoing, and highly successful reintroduction programme, has moved from critically endangered to near threatened.

Dr Fox adds: "Where we are able to target conservation work, we have managed to bring species back from the brink, but with the extinction risk increasing for more species than are decreasing, more must be done to protect our butterflies from the effects of changing land management and climate change.

"Without action it is likely that species will be lost from Britain's landscapes for good, but Butterfly Conservation is taking bold steps to improve key landscapes for butterflies and reduce the extinction risk of many threatened species."