Irish butterfly and bumblebee numbers slump

Butterfly populations are down 12% over the past decade

Ireland’s butterflies and bumblebees are dying off at an even faster rate than the catastrophic global decline.

A report unveiled last week revealed how the world’s insects are heading down the path to extinction which will threaten a “collapse of nature’s ecosystems”.

Figures from the National Biodiversity Data Centre reveal Irish butterfly populations have plummeted by a rate of 12% over the past decade while bumblebee numbers are down 14% in the last six years.

The public is being urged to let small patches of their gardens grow wild or even allow more time in between lawn cuts to allow flowers to blossom to help reverse the trend of declining insect populations.

Senior ecologist with the National Diversity Data Centre, Tomás Murray, said Irish rates of decline in these important insects mirror, and in some cases, are worse than global rates.

“Sadly yes, across the 120 sites in our butterfly monitoring scheme our recorders have detected an average annual decline of 2.6% over the past 10 years, slightly above the global average of 1.8%”, said Mr Murray.

“Similarly, across the 100 sites in the bumblebee scheme, our recorders have observed average declines of 3.7% per annum over the past six years, markedly above the 1.0% global average.”

The co-ordinator of the Butterfly and Bumblebee Monitoring Schemes, which are citizen science projects carried out by volunteers around the country, said it is a very real fall in numbers.

The global study confirmed more than 40% of insect species are declining and a third are endangered.

The rate of extinction of insects is eight times faster than that of mammals, birds and reptiles.

Researchers said insects, which outweigh humanity by 17 times, are essential for the proper functioning of all ecosystems as food for other creatures, pollinators and recyclers of nutrients.

Mr Murray said the fall in Irish butterfly and bumblebee populations are strong indicators as to the well-being of other insect populations in Ireland but only a fraction are monitored.

“What’s really frightening is that these trends largely reflect changes in our commoner species of insect as these form the bulk of insects detected by researchers and citizen scientists.

“These declines are not just measuring losses in rare specialists but actually in our widespread generalist species.”

Ireland has 14,500 species of insect but only 7% have had their conservation status assessed. Of those, 2% are now regionally extinct while 19% are in decline with 13% classed as threatened.

But Mr Murray said every citizen can easily help to reverse the trend.

“Everybody can do a little bit, it’s all about making a little bit of space for nature to survive and thrive. One of the simplest things you can do it at this time of year is don’t cut your grass until the dandelion has finished flowering. It is such an important resource for pollinators and many different flying insects as well.”

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