News Release

Butterfly monitoring project will enable improvements to Europe's environment

Research on population trends will inform EU biodiversity and agricultural policies

Grant and Award Announcement

UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology

Marsh Fritillary

image: Marsh fritillary (Euphydryas aurinia) is a threatened species across Europe due to loss of habitat view more 

Credit: Martin Warren

A major new EU Pilot Project will monitor population trends of butterflies to assess the health of the environment and to inform EU biodiversity and agricultural policies.

Butterfly populations are highly sensitive to environmental change, providing an early warning of impacts on ecosystems. The new study of population trends in different habitats across Europe will assess biodiversity loss and the impact of climate change and land use intensification.

The project, ABLE (Assessing ButterfLies in Europe), is a partnership between Butterfly Conservation Europe, the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UK), the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (Germany), Dutch Butterfly Conservation (The Netherlands) and Butterfly Conservation (UK). The team will work with partners across the EU. It is being funded by the EU for an initial period of two years.

Butterflies are already regularly monitored with the help of thousands of volunteers in 11 EU countries. The new project will build on the data collected by these existing networks and expand monitoring to cover at least eight additional EU countries, focusing on those in southern and eastern Europe.

This will provide more representative trends across Europe from which to assess the health of the environment and inform EU policies, including the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020 and the Common Agricultural Policy. The data will also contribute to the assessment of the health of Europe's pollinators as part of the EU Pollinator Initiative.

Dr David Roy of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, who leads the partnership, said: "By using data gathered systematically by thousands of volunteers, we will produce high-quality information on butterfly populations across Europe. We will use this to produce trends for species in grassland, woodland and wetland habitats as well as an overall measure of the state of Europe's butterflies.

"We will also examine the impact of climate change and the impact of EU policies and initiatives such as the Natura 2000 network of protected sites and the Common Agricultural Policy."

Mihail Dumitru, Deputy Director General of DG Agriculture and Rural Development, European Commission, said: "Many important habitats for butterflies and other pollinators, such as semi-natural grassland, occur on agricultural land, and we welcome this Pilot Project to extend butterfly monitoring and work on developing new Indicators of biodiversity."

Dr Chris van Swaay, Chair of Butterfly Conservation Europe, said: "Butterflies are highly sensitive indicators of environmental change. They also represent insects which are vital parts of the food chain as well as being important pollinators. There has been widespread concern about the decline of insects in recent years and the project will give us a more comprehensive assessment across several EU Countries of a high profile component of this critical group."

Dr Pavel Poc, Vice-Chair of the Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety, who proposed the pilot project in the European Parliament, said, "I am delighted that my colleagues have supported this ground breaking initiative. I am sure this will help develop new butterfly monitoring schemes in a number of Eastern and Central EU counties and enable valuable data to be incorporated in butterfly indicators for policy evaluation and improved biodiversity conservation."

Anne Teller of the EU Directorate General for the Environment, European Commission said: "Butterflies are important indicators for policy evaluation at EU level and I welcome this pilot project to upgrade the approach, facilitate additional data collection, engage more volunteers and stimulate action in more EU Member States."


Notes to editors

Media contact information

For interview requests or further information, please contact Simon Williams, Media Relations Officer, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, via +44 (0)7920 295384 or email

Butterflies factfile

    - Butterflies are accurate indicators of biodiversity loss or increase because their sensitivity makes them quick to react to environmental change. They are widely used by ecologists as model organisms to study the impact of habitat loss and fragmentation, plus climate change.

    - Areas rich in butterflies also have a wide range of other invertebrates, so are indicators of a healthy environment and ecosystems.

    - Butterflies form a key part of the food chain, being prey for birds and bats.

    - Butterflies pollinate a large range of flowering plants, travelling longer distances than many other insects.

    - There are almost 500 species of butterflies in Europe as a whole.

    - Butterfly Conservation Europe reports serious declines in butterflies in most countries of Europe.

About Butterfly Conservation Europe:

Butterfly Conservation Europe co-ordinates the efforts of 45 butterfly and moth organisations in 35 countries. It has produced a range of reports and strategies which can be downloaded from its website. @europebutterfly

About the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology

The Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) is a centre of excellence for integrated research into land and freshwater ecosystems and their interaction with the atmosphere. CEH is a Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) research institute, part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). The Centre's independent, impartial science addresses major societal and environmental challenges: how to protect and enhance the environment and the benefits it provides; how to build resilience to environmental hazards; and how to manage environmental change. Its core expertise is in environmental monitoring, measuring and modelling. @CEHScienceNews

About Butterfly Conservation (UK)

Butterfly Conservation, a UK charity dedicated to saving butterflies, moths and our environment. Its research provides advice on how to conserve and restore habitats. Butterfly Conservation runs programmes for more than 100 threatened species and is involved in conserving hundreds of sites and reserves. @savebutterflies

About Dutch Butterfly Conservation (The Netherlands)

Dutch Butterfly Conservation (De Vlinderstichting), founded in 1983, carries out research and gives advice to those responsible for making decisions on the use, development and management of land in the Netherlands. @vlinderNL

About Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research

Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) is one of the world's leading centres in the field of environmental research, enjoying high social recognition. It demonstrates ways in which a sustainable use of our natural resources is possible for the benefit of both humans and the environment. UFZ, jointly with the German Society for Butterfly & Moth Conservation (GfS), co-ordinates the German butterfly monitoring scheme ( @UFZ_de


The ABLE (Assessing ButterfLies in Europe) project is run under a Service Contract for supporting EU butterfly monitoring and indicators, funded by the European Union. The Contract value is 800,000 Euros over 2 years. Contract no. 07.027742/2018/790285/SER/ENV.D.W

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