Cumbria butterfly expert warns insect apocalypse could be on the cards if people don’t act now

A university lecture has warned a massive decline in insects over the past 40 years could spell disaster for the future of the planet.

Butterflies usually conjure up images of sunshine, warmth and colour in gardens and out in nature. But sadly, four varieties became extinct during the last 150 years.

Three-quarters of British butterflies are in decline and some species have lost 90 per cent, Dr Mic Mayhew from Cumbria University told Cumbria Live. The 56 species in Britain and Ireland are under threat today from unprecedented environmental change

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And the consequences could be dire. Butterflies and moths have been recognised by the Government as indicators of biodiversity.

Their fragility makes them quick to react to change so their struggle to survive is a serious warning about our environment. Habitats have been destroyed on a massive scale.

Now patterns of climate and weather are shifting unpredictably in response to pollution of the atmosphere but the disappearance of these beautiful creatures is more serious than just a loss of colour in the countryside. Dr Mayhew and his team are embarking on a mammoth challenge to help save and repopulate butterflies in Cumbria.

Student volunteers from UoC planting cowslips as food plants for DOB caterpillars
Student volunteers from UoC planting cowslips as food plants for DOB caterpillars

The Duke of Burgundy is a rare butterfly and is one of the butterflies the team is helping to conserve along with the small blue butterfly which is one of the smallest butterflies found in the UK. Dr Mayhew said: “Climate change is battering them and a big problem is loss of habitat.

Duke of Burgundy a rare butterfly
Duke of Burgundy a rare butterfly

“This is not only because of climate change but agricultural land and that can’t really be changed. It is also the pesticide people put on their gardens to kill weeds, weeds are just wildflowers in the wrong place and these are important food sources.

“With the weather warming up you would think it would be good for them but they can’t travel to the warmer places as there isn’t the route though.”

The insect expert and former vet explained how important nettles are as a food source and pulling them out is causing problems.

Eggs of a Duke of Burgundy which is a rare butterfly
Eggs of a Duke of Burgundy which is a rare butterfly

He said: “Insects are in decline and they all play a role, if the insects die off then the birds will stop coming and so on further up the food chain.

“There will be an insect apocalypse and lots of things we see will not be there. Over the years I have noticed how quiet it has become when you’re outside.

“There was a time where you could hear the buzz of nature but that is declining. Butterflies are especially important as they help people engage with nature.

“But people have their lawns cut to perfection and the insects don’t have anywhere to go. I would like people to leave some parts of their garden overgrown and stop using chemicals, if everyone did it, it would make a big difference.”

Back on Our Map (BOOM) aims to re-engage communities in South Cumbria with their natural environment, by restoring the landscape and reintroducing and reinforcing locally threatened or extinct native species.

National Lottery players support the £2m project, alongside a number of other public, private and charitable sector organisations.

BOOM will help to build healthy, resilient, empowered communities by providing an exciting range of reintroduction-based social activities and training events.
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Lancs Live – Cumbria