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Help counting Europe’s butterflies

Dutch Butterfly Conservation
17-FEB-2020 - Recently the decline of insects has been highlighted as one of the main crises in biodiversity conservation. Butterflies are one of the groups of insects that are popular, colourful and easy to identify. Everyone can help in monitoring of these beautiful creatures and thus help track changes in our insect biodiversity.

The European Butterfly Grassland IndicatorThe first standardised Butterfly Monitoring Scheme (BMS) started in the UK in 1976. Trials of counting butterflies along a fixed route or transect had been successfully completed the year before in Monks Wood National Nature Reserve, and the method was rolled out on around forty reserves. This expanded rapidly as it proved very popular with volunteer recorders. Now over 1,500 sites are monitored all over the UK. Many other countries have since followed the British steps and started to count butterflies as well. The Netherlands and other Western European countries started their BMSs from the 1990s onwards and now there are more than 7000 standardised butterfly transects collecting data every year. This immense amount of information gathered by citizen scientists is now being used to understand the trends in butterfly populations across Europe, and help monitor factors such as the intensification of land use and climate change.

Status eBMS, January 2020Nowadays many countries from the North and West of Europe have a national Butterfly Monitoring Scheme following the same rules; collecting data throughout the butterfly season, under good weather conditions. In 2014 the European Butterfly Monitoring Scheme (eBMS) was created for merging all the country level data in a central database. Now, with the database of eBMS, we can produce the butterfly analysis at a European level. One of the results is the Butterfly Grassland Indicator 1990 – 2017, a collaboration between 16 countries sharing their butterfly data over 28 years. This report shows a decline of 39% in butterflies characteristic of European grasslands, indicating a problem in these habitats where butterflies are disappearing and probably, many other insects too. Thanks to the existing collaboration we can get a good overview of the butterfly situation in Europe. However, many important countries are still not covered by the eBMS, including several from the East and South of Europe. Thus at the end of 2018, a new project was started to collate data from all the existing Butterfly Monitoring Schemes and start new ones in all countries.

All over Europe thousands of butterfly transects are countedThe project is called ABLE (Assessing Butterflies in Europe) and is being funded for two years by the European Commission to improve and produce new Butterfly Indicators and technological tools of data collection. After only one year of work, the ABLE project has incredible results; various countries created their BMS and started to count butterflies in the same standardised way, encouraging citizens and administrations to join in. During 2019, Portugal, Italy, Austria, and Cyprus were able to start their own BMSs and promote butterfly monitoring at meetings and workshops organised by ABLE. These helped bring together butterfly experts and interested people to work together to monitor the fortunes of butterflies in their countries. ABLE also established contacts with countries that were already doing some butterfly monitoring, such as Hungary and the Czech Republic, in order to share their data with the eBMS. We are now hoping that other countries will join in this growing pan-European scheme.

How can you help? Check the eBMS website to see if there is a BMS in your country and join them in the butterfly counts. If there is no scheme, then you could start your own transect and help to develop a new scheme in your own country. Every transect can help give us a more accurate picture of how butterflies are changing. On the website you will find instructions on how to start your own transect. There are simple online forms and guidance. Any counts entered via the website go straight into the central database and will be used in the production of European butterfly trends and in indicators. Thank you very much for any help you can give.

Text: Cristina G. Sevilleja Project Officer of the ABLE project
Illustrations: Kars Veling; eBMS/ABLE; EEA & Butterfly Conservation Europe