Save our butterflies | University of Oxford
OSB archive
OSB archive

Save our butterflies

Pete Wilton

Naturalists are looking to raise £25m to build the world's biggest walk-in butterfly house. It's all part of an effort to draw attention to the plight of butterflies around the world, with many species thought to be driven to extinction before scientists even set eyes on them.

Jeremy Thomas of Oxford's Department of Zoology, told the Times: 'Butterflies desperately need our help. They are one of the most sensitive indicators known to science of what is about to happen to nearly all the animals and plants that share their ecosystem,' while his predictions in the Telegraph were rather more apocalyptic:  
'A comprehensive survey of our butterflies in 2001 made clear that 71 per cent of our species were in decline, several had become extinct and others were in worrying decline, with 70 to 80 per cent of our stock lost. It supports the belief that the natural world is approaching the sixth great extinction.' Loss of habitat is the main reason why butterflies are under threat; the growth of cities and climate change may also have a hand in their decline.

It's easy to see why this butterfly campaign is getting lots of attention but maybe it is, as Professor Thomas implies, the butterfly's role as an ecological indicator that's more important here. The butterfly is the poster-boy of the insect world and as insects make up an estimated 2/3 of all the creatures on Earth similar declines in other less-lovable insect species could be extremely bad news for humans. As an avid fan of BBC's Life in the Undergrowth keeps reminding me, saving large cuddly mammals such as pandas, polar bears and whales is all well and good but we should be more worried about the insects that hold together our animal ecosystems: insects can live without us but we can't live without them.