The Butterfly Effect - How establishing a formal transect for long-term population monitoring breathed new life into the Twycross Zoo Nature Reserve, Community and Native Species Programme
Butterflies are well-known indicators of environmental health and essential building blocks of food chains. Yet, The State of the UK’s Butterflies 2022 report by Butterfly Conservation (BC) found that “In the UK, long-term trends show that 80% of butterfly species have decreased in abundance or distribution, or both since the 1970s”.
The continuing decline of pollinators is a threat that impacts the overall biodiversity of the UK, and could also have grave economic consequences through the loss of ecosystem services.
Within the framework of the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme, Butterfly Conservation has a nationwide network of formal transects with the aim to assess the status and trends of butterfly populations in the UK. By joining this network and setting up a recognised transect within Twycross Zoo Nature Reserve (TZNR), we contribute to improving the scientific understanding of the abundance, dispersal and movement of butterfly species in the UK. TZNR is a wildlife haven within an agricultural matrix, and as such could potentially be an important stepping stone for a wide number of species that would otherwise be unable to traverse or indeed survive in this geographical region.
The 2022 butterfly transect season ran between 1st April and 30th September, during which the transect route was surveyed weekly using BC’s standardised methodology. The weekly surveys were carried out by Twycross Zoo staff who volunteered for the role; the opportunity was open to everyone. 16 staff members from five different departments within the zoo (Animal keeping, Education, Veterinary, Research & Conservation, Directorate) participated in the surveys.
Altogether, the volunteers spent 31hrs and 14 minutes surveying. This first year of data collection provided us with information about the geographical and temporal distribution and occurrence of 22 butterfly species within the TZNR. Also, BC’s annual report from the region revealed that TZNR is one of the more species-rich sites within Leicestershire for butterflies, with only 5 of the 26 sites recording more species than our Nature Reserve.
The butterfly effect of the transect also impacted the wider zoo as awareness raising was incorporated into our conservation education agenda by creating an annual conservation education event to support citizen science and to celebrate our native butterfly species. The results of the first transect season were also shared at a public Conservation Evening Talk at Twycross Zoo, which is a year-long series of talks featuring and highlighting the work of our UK-based and overseas conservation partners, and the zoo’s in-situ conservation work.
Perhaps even more importantly, this first year allowed us to further embed a conservation culture among TZ staff, building capacity in native species surveying and encouraging participation in citizen science, which will inevitably spread beyond the boundaries of a transect-related activity at the workplace. It also reinforced Twycross Zoo’s long-term commitment to native species conservation, and created a conservation action legacy for many more years to come.
Twycross Zoo won a Bronze award for this project in the BIAZA Awards Research Category in 2023.