A major new EU Pilot Project involving the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology will monitor population trends of butterflies to assess the health of the environment and to inform EU biodiversity and agricultural policies.

Butterfly populations are highly sensitive to environmental change, providing an early warning of impacts on ecosystems. The new study of population trends in different habitats across Europe will assess biodiversity loss and the impact of climate change and land use intensification.

The project, ABLE (Assessing ButterfLies in Europe), is a partnership between Butterfly Conservation Europe, the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UK), the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (Germany), Dutch Butterfly Conservation (The Netherlands) and Butterfly Conservation (UK). The team will work with partners across the EU. It is being funded by the EU for an initial period of two years.

Butterflies are already regularly monitored with the help of thousands of volunteers in 11 EU countries. The new project will build on the data collected by these existing networks and expand monitoring to cover at least eight additional EU countries, focusing on those in southern and eastern Europe.

This will provide more representative trends across Europe from which to assess the health of the environment and inform EU policies, including the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020 and the Common Agricultural Policy. The data will also contribute to the assessment of the health of Europe’s pollinators as part of the EU Pollinator Initiative.

Dr David Roy of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, who leads the partnership, said: “By using data gathered systematically by thousands of volunteers, we will produce high-quality information on butterfly populations across Europe. We will use this to produce trends for species in grassland, woodland and wetland habitats as well as an overall measure of the state of Europe’s butterflies.

“We will also examine the impact of climate change and the impact of EU policies and initiatives such as the Natura 2000 network of protected sites and the Common Agricultural Policy.”

  • Butterflies are accurate indicators of biodiversity loss or increase because their sensitivity makes them quick to react to environmental change. They are widely used by ecologists as model organisms to study the impact of habitat loss and fragmentation, plus climate change.
  • Areas rich in butterflies also have a wide range of other invertebrates, so are indicators of a healthy environment and ecosystems.
  • Butterflies form a key part of the food chain, being prey for birds and bats.
  • Butterflies pollinate a large range of flowering plants, travelling longer distances than many other insects.
  • There are almost 500 species of butterflies in Europe as a whole.
  • Butterfly Conservation Europe reports serious declines in butterflies in most countries of Europe.

Anne Teller of the EU Directorate General for the Environment, European Commission said: “Butterflies are important indicators for policy evaluation at EU level and I welcome this pilot project to upgrade the approach, facilitate additional data collection, engage more volunteers and stimulate action in more EU Member States.”

The ABLE project is run under a Service Contract for the European Union, worth a total of 800,000 Euros over two years.

The Centre for Ecology & Hydrology has produced a press release on the new project.