Steven Cheshire's British Butterflies
British Butterflies: Conservation: Habitat Loss
Habitat Loss - Butterflies and the environment
Butterflies are sensitive creatures with complex life cycles. As a result, they are some of the first creatures to respond to changes in the environment. Many butterfly species are highly mobile and can travel great distances in order to find a suitable place in which to live. These species can provide an insight into environmental changes on a country and in some cases global scale.

Other species rarely move more than 20 metres from where they hatched from chrysalis (even less if the habitat is not suitable). This limited mobility makes these species extremely sensitive to small changes to the environment on a local scale. These species are the ones most at risk from local, regional and ultimately national extinction as their environment becomes fragmented and the gene pool within each fragmented population becomes smaller resulting in interbreeding and disease.
Oxhouse Farm SSSI, Warwickshire in 2010. This flower rich meadow is the core breeding site for the only Dark Green Fritillary colony in Warwickshire.
1 - Oxhouse Farm SSSI, Warwickshire in 2010. This flower rich meadow is the core breeding site for the only Dark Green Fritillary colony in Warwickshire.
  Habitat loss is one of the major factors in wildlife declines across the UK.

There are many ways in which habitat loss can occur. This includes but is not limited to:

Natural Habitat Succession
Leave any piece of grassland long enough and it will eventually become woodland. As these changes take place, the suitability of the habitat to any particular species will vary. Image 1 shows prime habitat for the Dark Green Fritillary. Image 2 shows an increase in scrubby bushes which will eventually shade out the grassland.

Lack of Management
Almost every inch of land in the UK has been farmed, deforested, fertilised, grazed or polluted as a result of mans relationship with the landscape. As a result, many wild creatures have evolved to cope with these constant changes to the environment.

When traditional management techniques such as woodland coppicing almost ended in the 20th century, many creatures declined because they require a particular habitat which is created as a result of forest clearance. This cleared forest will quickly become grassland, scrub and finally woodland again. During this process, species come and go but only those which are in easy reach of suitable habitat nearby can survive.
  This once flower rich meadow is slowly reverting to hawthorn scrub (habitat succession). Without urgent work, this important habitat may be lost.
2 - This once flower rich meadow is slowly reverting to hawthorn scrub (habitat succession). Without urgent work, this important habitat may be lost.
A traditional 'unimproved' wild flower meadow was once a common sight in Britain but is now extremely rare. They are often full of orchids and insects.
3 - A traditional 'unimproved' wild flower meadow was once a common sight in Britain but is now extremely rare. They are often full of orchids and insects.
  Changes in Farming Practices (Intensification)
Simple things like mechanical hedge flailing have had a huge impact on species such as the Brown Hairstreak.

Our 'green and pleasant land' is often devoid of wildlife. As the pressure on our farmers to produce more for less increases, every inch of land is put under the plough, treated with insecticides, pesticides, herbicides and enriched with oil based fertilisers. Even the big GM companies such as Monsanto are getting a foot in the door... big money is the name of the game yet no one truly knows what effect GM food production will have on the future to the health of our wildlife or humans. There's no guarantee... get it wrong and it could be a huge problem.

Changes in the way we harvest crops to feed livestock has also had a detrimental effect on wildlife. Where once traditional wild flower meadows buzzed with life (see image 3) and were harvested for hay in late summer, now farmers prefer tall lush grass they can harvest to make silage (image 4).

Many of the farming policies currently in place in the UK are the result of European Union rules and regulations. Up until recently, farmers were paid to create areas known as set-aside to benefit wildlife. Many of these areas have now be ploughed up as a result of changes in EU policy and funding.
  An intensively farmed landscape offers far less to our native wildlife. Field margins (if they exist), hedgerows and the odd mature tree is all that is left.
4 - An intensively farmed landscape offers far less to our native wildlife. Field margins (if they exist), hedgerows and the odd mature tree is all that is left.

Modern 'Development'
A proposal to build a new housing estate on the outskirts of a town or village may not seem to be a major threat to wildlife on the face of it but its the accumulation of 'developments' over time which push wildlife to the limits.

Often it's these types of developments which have an unseen and unrecorded effect on wildlife. Its only years later when people recall how an area used to be and what wildlife they used to see that they realise what has been lost... but by then its all too late.

Developments are allowed to go ahead because planning departments and planning laws insist that developers include a 'compensation scheme' in return for granting planning permission to destroy natural habitats. These compensation schemes may be to translocate grassland, create a nature reserve or plant some native trees. These are however just false hopes, government sanctioned bribes to placate the concerns of local people. In the long run, wildlife and ultimately we will suffer the consequences as wildlife habitats are fragmented.

As our population becomes more mobile, our society slowly loses the knowledge of 'local people' and as a result, the existing population whose roots originate from elsewhere do not have the accumulated knowledge of place in the present and the past. Eventually, not only do we lose important wildlife but we also lose local history, knowledge and social cohesion within our cities, towns and villages.

At what point do we say 'enough is enough'? When will governments realise that we have no more space left to build on... when will our economy no longer be built on the shaky foundations of house building and 'development' as a way of creating short term jobs and 'economic growth' for the benefit of the few and the detriment of the many?