Almost a third of Europe's butterflies are in decline and nearly one in 10 species is threatened with extinction in the region, conservationists warned. The large blue butterfly, which was successfully reintroduced to the UK after dying out here, is endangered throughout Europe, according to the European Red List assessment of species at risk. And the Duke of Burgundy and Lulworth skipper, which both suffered their worst year in the UK last year, are in decline in many countries across the continent. The release of the European Red List, commissioned by the European Commission, also revealed 14 per cent of dragonflies and 11 per cent of a group of beetles which rely on decaying wood were at risk of extinction. Some 22 species of butterfly, 29 types of the ''saproxylic'' beetles and five different dragonflies are also at risk of becoming extinct globally, according to the assessment led by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Conservationists said a loss of habitats, including traditionally-farmed grasslands, woodlands and wetlands, was the major factor affecting insect species. Dr Martin Warren, author of the report on Europe's butterflies and chief executive of Butterfly Conservation in the UK, said insects were being hit by loss of grassland habitats due to both intensification of agriculture and abandonment of farming land. Nearly a third (31 per cent) of Europe's 435 butterfly species have declining populations, the report found. While the large blue butterfly's reintroduction in the UK has proved a success, it is ''very much the exception'' as it is declining in every country where it occurs, Dr Warren said. But conservation efforts to re-establish populations in this country after the butterfly vanished in 1979 showed what can be achieved if the right steps are taken, he said. Most butterflies at risk are in southern Europe, said Annabelle Cuttelod, IUCN co-ordinator of the European Red List. Along with changes to agriculture, species are threatened by climate change, forest fires and the expansion of tourism, she said. The Madeiran large white butterfly is critically endangered (possibly extinct), having not been seen on Madeira for 20 years, and the Macedonian grayling butterfly is critically endangered because quarrying activities are reducing its habitat. Dr Warren said most of the butterflies listed occurred on grassland or habitats which had been managed by humans and had benefited from traditional agricultural processes. But now, he said, ''traditional systems are disappearing in a big way''. ''In the 1950s and 1960s we had massive losses of habitat in the UK, and it is still going on to a lesser extent, but in Europe big changes have been going on in the last five to 10 years.'' He added: ''We lost a lot of our flower-rich meadows in the 50s and 60s, while they are losing theirs at a rate of knots now.'' Intensification of agriculture is destroying habitat in some areas, while grasslands in many mountain regions in the Alps and Pyrenees are being abandoned and falling into a poor condition because livestock farming is not financially viable. Dr Warren called for more support for traditional farming systems to help insects such as butterflies, which he said were very good indicators of changes to the environment. The main threats to saproxlic beetles, which are highly dependent on decaying wood and play an essential role in recycling nutrients, are logging and the decline in the number of mature trees. The violet click beetle, which lives in tree cavities with wood mould, is known to exist at only three sites in England and is endangered across Europe because of changing woodland management practices. Dragonfly species occur in Europe in their highest numbers in southern France, Alpine foothills and the Balkan peninsula, and most of the threatened species are found in southern Europe. The IUCN said increasingly hot and dry summers, combined with more water being extracted for irrigation and drinking supplies, were causing wetland habitats including brooks and rivers to dry up.


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