European Environment Agency (EEA)

The European Grassland Butterfly Indicator: 1990–2011


Courtesy of Courtesy of European Environment Agency (EEA)

  • This report presents the European Grassland Butterfly Indicator, based on national Butterfly Monitoring Schemes (BMS) in 19 countries across Europe, most of them in the European Union.
  • The indicator shows that since 1990 till 2011 butterfly populations have declined by almost 50 %, indicating a dramatic loss of grassland biodiversity. This also means the situation has not improved since the first version of the indicator published in 2005.
  • Of the 17 species, 8 have declined in Europe, 2 have remained stable and 1 increased. For six species the trend is uncertain.
  • The main driver behind the decline of grassland butterflies is the change in rural land use: agricultural intensification where the land is relatively flat and easy to cultivate, and abandonment in mountains and wet areas, mainly in eastern and southern Europe.
  • Agricultural intensification leads to uniform, almost sterile grasslands for biodiversity. Grassland butterflies thus mainly survive in traditionally farmed low-input systems (High Nature Value (HNV) Farmland) as well as nature reserves, and on marginal land such as road verges and amenity areas.
  • Abandonment is caused by socio-economic factors. When farming on low-productivity land brings only small incomes and there is little or no support from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), farmers give up their enterprises and the land is left unmanaged. The grassland quickly becomes tall and rank and is soon replaced by scrub and woodland.
  • The EU Biodiversity Strategy recognises the poor conservation status of grasslands and of their characteristic butterflies. The actions set out in this Strategy need urgent implementation. Appropriate management is vital both for grasslands designated as Natura 2000 areas and on HNV farmland outside these areas. Financial support for biodiversity-friendly actions and programmes should also be further enhanced through the Common Agricultural Policy measures.
  • Butterflies offer the possibility to be used as a structural headline indicator, not only for grasslands but also for other habitats, and to track other pressures such as climate change.

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