Ecosystem will collapse if we fail to save butterflies, warns Attenborough

09 Mar 2008
Page 18 (STN)
Edition 1C (497 words)


Ecosystem will collapse if we fail to save butterflies, warns Attenborough


SIR DAVID Attenborough says Britain faces an "environmental catastrophe'' unless immediate action is taken to save the country's butterflies from extinction. The broadcaster is to launch a multimillion-pound campaign to preserve the insects, amid fears that large areas of the countryside will soon become butterfly-free. Five species have become extinct over the past century. Of the 54 remaining, more than three-quarters are in rapid decline. "This is an environmental catastrophe. Butterflies, once widespread, have been seriously affected by intensive agriculture, habitat destruction, pollution, and development,'' said Sir David. "That is worrying, not least because these declines indicate an underlying deterioration of the environment as a whole.'' Sir David is backing the charity Butterfly Conservation to encourage enthusiasts to help preserve habitats and help fund a £ 25 million project, called Butterfly World, which would be the world's largest walk-through butterfly enclosure. "Invertebrates were the first creatures of any kind to colonise the land,'' said Sir David. "They established the foundations of the land's ecosystems and were able to transcend the limitations of their small size by banding together in huge communities of millions. "If we and the rest of the back-boned animals were to disappear overnight, the rest of the world would get on pretty well. But if the invertebrates were to disappear, the land's ecosystems would collapse. "For the sake of future generations, we must take action now.'' As well as being an indicator of the health of the environment, butterflies are one of the major agents of pollination, and key indicators of climate change. A third of species are spreading north as the climate warms up, with the range of the comma - a common species of butterfly in Britain - moving at a rate of six miles a year. Figures published this week by Butterfly Conservation will highlight the scale of the crisis. The high brown fritillary is the latest species to face extinction, after numbers fell 79 per cent in the past 20 years. It is found only in isolated colonies in Devon, Lancashire, and Wales. Butterflies that have special habitats, such as woodland clearings, heaths or chalk down land, are also under threat. Martin Warren, chief executive of Butterfly Conservation, will this week meet Lord Rooker, the minister for Sustainable Food and Farming and Animal Health, to see what more the Government can do. It has already introduced the environmental stewardship scheme, which pays farmers to manage and protect areas for wildlife. Mr Warren stressed that sites must be protected from urban expansion. "A lot of people don't realise how many butterflies we've lost because they're long gone from areas of the countryside where they used to thrive,'' he said. Figures show that the chalkhill blue has declined by more than a third over the past decade, but conservation efforts at Magdalen Hill Down, near Winchester, have boosted numbers by 700 per cent in recent years. "It's not a lost cause,'' said Mr Warren. The future of butterflies is in our hands.''

Copyright: Telegraph Group Ltd

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