PARIS: Europe’s butterflies are in danger. Generally well-loved, these colourful insects, which symbolise hope and freedom, are above all essential to the maintenance of ecosystems and are invaluable for agriculture.
Here’s how to help protect them.
According to a report published in 2022 by the ONB, France’s biodiversity observatory (Observatoire National de la Biodiversité), of the 301 species of butterfly living in mainland France, 200 have disappeared from at least one département since the last century. In total, this represents 66% of species.
And, according to the European Environment Agency, half of all grassland butterflies have disappeared from Europe in the space of 20 years.
But many people still don’t realise the extent of the threat to butterflies.
“Too often perceived as undesirable, insects are rarely the target of conservation actions. With the exception of the honey bee, prized for its honey, the essential role played by insects in the health of ecosystems is poorly understood,” laments France’s Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle on its website.
But what does science know about butterflies?
While they are generally appreciated for their beauty and attract curiosity for their singular lifecycle, the essential role they play in maintaining ecosystems is less well known.
Like the other members of their family of insect pollinators, butterflies are essential to maintaining biodiversity and are invaluable to many agricultural crops, since they transport over 80% of flower pollen.
What’s more, they are an essential link in the food chain, serving as food for numerous predators, including spiders, lizards and birds.
The decline of butterflies is largely due to habitat loss, itself caused by intensive agriculture and soil artificialisation.
According to experts at the ONB, grassland butterflies are particularly affected, as these natural areas are being destroyed by urbanization, the draining of wetlands, deforestation and the move away from extensive livestock farming.
But there are other reasons for the decline of butterflies, starting with climate change and increasingly frequent droughts, light pollution, and chemical inputs into agricultural soils, and more specifically pesticides.
The best way to preserve butterflies is therefore to reduce or eliminate these harmful factors, for example, by banning the use of herbicides and pesticides in all green spaces that could serve as their habitat, including private gardens (or even balconies).
Another key solution is to drastically reduce human intervention and allow nature to flourish.
For example, by reducing the intensity and frequency of mowing in meadows, or by mowing your garden lawn less often. Note that some plants and trees, such as hazelnut, raspberry and lime trees, also provide refuge and food for butterflies.
You can also take part in a counting operation by getting involved in a citizen science project.
These collaborative projects, which encourage ecological and collective commitment, are becoming increasingly popular, and they can even help boost well-being.