February, 2013

Our work

Our work
You might be surprised to read that our work is far broader than nature reserves and Big Garden Birdwatch. Read more about what else we do.

Saving Species

The need for species conservation has never been greater. Despite notable successes in improving the fortunes of a number of bird species, more are being forced onto the list of those that need attention, both globally and in the UK. If we want to have a
  • Ascension frigatebird – follow the flight

    As part of the Darwin funded project to assess the biodiversity of Ascension Island, several species are being tagged with satellite transmitters so that we can learn where they roam out at sea.

    You can catch up with three of the tagged frigatebirds here (frigatebird number 2 is probably the most interesting so far).

  • Guest blog: In the still of the night

    Richard Fox, Surveys Manager for Butterfly Conservation shares worrying news about some of our under-appreciated wildlife

    Under the cover of darkness, tigers, elephants and footmen emerge from the borders to dance in our gardens. Wearing intricately woven patterns of delicate greens and yellows, shocking pinks and scarlets, they fill the night sky with movement and activity. They are moths of course, one of the most misunderstood features of our wildlife.

    Contrary to common misconception, moths are not plain nor are they all intent on devouring your favourite woolly jumper. Moths can be just as brightly coloured as butterflies, many more moth species fly in the daytime than butterflies and only two out of 2,500 moth species recorded in Britain are likely to cause damage to textiles.

    The stunning Elephant Hawk-moth (Rachel Scopes) occurs commonly in gardens across the UK

    So, moths can be beautiful and they are much, much more diverse than butterflies. Only a dozen or so butterfly species are commonly seen in gardens, but hundreds of moths live in and visit our gardens every night. This dazzling diversity of moths on our doorstep and throughout the countryside is important. Most adult moths visit flowers to drink nectar and, in doing so, act as pollinators, while moth caterpillars represent an enormous food source for a very wide range of other creatures, from tiny parasitic wasps to the most familiar of garden birds.

    But all is not well in the world of moths. A new report, The State of Britain’s Larger Moths 2013, published this month by Butterfly Conservation and Rothamsted Research, revealed severe declines among moth species based on 40 years of nightly counts across the country.

    The study shows that the total abundance of larger moths (some 900 species, also known as macro-moths) has decreased by 28% in Britain since the late 1960s. The picture in the southern half of Britain is much worse, with a 40% decline, while in the north there has been no overall change. This dramatic decline in moth numbers is likely to have knock-on effects for birds and other wildlife that feed on moths and other insects. Blue Tit chicks alone eat an estimated 35 billion moth caterpillars every year in Britain, but most other garden birds also rely on insect food for their young.


    Many birds, in gardens and the countryside, feed on moths and moth caterpillars. This Wheatear has caught an Emperor Moth (Steve Batt).

    National population trends for hundreds of common and widespread larger moths showed that two thirds of species have declined over the 40-year study. Once familiar ‘garden’ moths such as the V-moth, Spinach and Garden Tiger have become unusual sightings after each declined by more than 90%, but many very common species have also declined severely. Around 37% of the species studied had decreased by over 50% and three species are thought to have become extinct here this century.

    Habitat loss and the simplification of our urban and rural landscapes are thought to be the main cause of the declines. As hedgerows and flowery field margins have given way to increased agricultural efficiency so the moths that lived there have been extinguished. Climate change may also be playing a role, for example in the decline of the Garden Tiger, but also in the one third of larger moth species that are increasing in numbers, many of which are spreading rapidly northwards.

    More research is needed urgently to untangle the causes of moth declines and to develop solutions. Butterfly Conservation and the RSPB will be working together to secure a brighter future for these important insects.

    So spare a thought for moths. Misunderstood and underappreciated, the decline of Britain’s common moths, the Skylarks and House Sparrows of the insect world, points to a potentially catastrophic loss of biodiversity caused by human activity that threatens not only other much-loved parts of our wildlife but also the ecosystem services upon which we all depend.

    Find out all about moths, moth recording and conservation at www.mothscount.org


    Richard Fox
    Surveys Manager, Butterfly Conservation
    Twitter: @RichardFoxBC

  • Vultures - praise for South Asian Governments

    The Asian vulture crisis and losing over 99% of three species in just 15 years makes the need for fast action across a whole sub-continent. The fact that Governments in India, Pakistan and Nepal all reacted (responding to NGO pressure) within two years (and Bangladesh within six) has been highlighted in a Perspective article in the journal ‘Science’ published today by Dr Andrew Balmford of Cambridge University. Perhaps for those of us working so closely with this huge problem, its easy to forget the wider perspective, and good to remind ourselves that actually the Government reaction has been relatively fast, and indeed it is even beginning to show the results that we are working towards in terms of slowing the vulture declines!  

    Although the recent SAVE meeting in November (the report will be posted in the coming days) highlighted the two key actions still required, which will require further steps by all the four governments - these being to restrict human diclofenac vial size to 3ml to avoid the illegal abuse by vets, and the establishment of vulture safety-testing of other drugs coming onto the veterinary market; but the signs are that these steps should also be possible and hopefully we can then add further praise to the authorities and their role in securing a future for these magnificent scavengers that also play such a crucial role in the environment.

    To find out more about our major donors, click  here for Save Our Species and here for the Darwin Initiative.

    Banning veterinary diclofenac has already had positive effects for vultures (Chris Bowden)