Climate change impact on butterflies revealed

31 October 2019

Butterfly populations remain stable in Scotland but climate change is having a variable impact on different species.

The latest Scottish Biodiversity Indicator published by NatureScot examines the long-term trend for butterflies since 1979.

The warming summer climate has pushed the distribution of some species northwards, but this has been balanced out by the negative effects of warmer and wetter winters and poor land management practices in some habitats.

Populations of orange-tip, small heath, ringlet, small pearl-bordered fritillary and red admiral butterflies have all experienced significant increases.

Meanwhile there have been decreases in the numbers of grayling, small tortoiseshell and small copper butterflies.

Habitat loss, climate change, urban development and increased nitrogen deposition have all been linked to declines.

Recent research has shown that milder wetter winters in particular are having a negative impact on some species including the small tortoiseshell.

Simon Foster, NatureScot Trends and Indicators Analyst, said: “While butterfly populations in Scotland have remained stable overall, a closer look at the data reveals that climate change is impacting differently on different species.

“While the range of some established or expanding butterfly populations has been pushed northwards as a result of warming summers, other species are struggling to cope.

“We know that nature-based solutions are crucial to helping us tackle the climate emergency, and together with partners we are working on a range of projects to help pollinators such as butterflies.

“Members of the public can also do their bit – for example planting butterfly-friendly native plants can help populations locally, and leaving nettles alone will ensure an essential food plant for small tortoiseshells. Providing a nice dry area such as a log pile or an old shed left partly open can also provide essential overwintering conditions for small tortoiseshell and peacock butterflies.”

Another way to help is to get involved in counting butterflies locally through initiatives such as Butterfly Conservation’s Big Butterfly Count: