Increase the proportion of natural or semi‐natural habitat in the farmed landscape

How is the evidence assessed?
  • Effectiveness
    not assessed
  • Certainty
    not assessed
  • Harms
    not assessed

Study locations

Key messages

  • Ten studies evaluated the effects of increasing the proportion of natural or semi-natural habitat in the farmed landscape on butterflies and moths. Three studies were in Switzerland, two were in each of Germany and the UK, and one was in each of the USA, Sweden and New Zealand.

COMMUNITY RESPONSE (9 STUDIES)

  • Richness/diversity (9 studies): Eight of nine studies (including one replicated, randomized, controlled study, one before-and-after study and seven replicated, site comparison studies) in Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK, New Zealand found that the species richness of butterflies and moths was higher on farms with a greater proportion of semi-natural habitat, after semi-natural habitat had been created or in the semi-natural habitat compared to conventional farmland. The ninth study found that the species richness of butterflies was similar on farms with different proportions of semi-natural habitat.

POPULATION RESPONSE (7 STUDIES)

  • Abundance (7 studies): Six replicated studies (including one randomized, controlled study and five site comparison studies) in Sweden, the UK, New Zealand, and Switzerland found that the abundance of butterflies and moths was higher on farms with a greater proportion of semi-natural habitat, or in semi-natural habitat compared to conventional farmland. One replicated, site comparison study in the USA found that the abundance of four out of eight species of butterflies was higher on farms surrounded by woodland, but the abundance of least skipper was lower on farms with more semi-natural habitat.

BEHAVIOUR (0 STUDIES)

About key messages

Key messages provide a descriptive index to studies we have found that test this intervention.

Studies are not directly comparable or of equal value. When making decisions based on this evidence, you should consider factors such as study size, study design, reported metrics and relevance of the study to your situation, rather than simply counting the number of studies that support a particular interpretation.

Supporting evidence from individual studies

  1. A before-and-after study in 1987–1991 on an arable farm in Saarland, Germany (Reck 1993) reported that increasing the area of meadows and field margins, and the length of field edges, increased the species richness of butterflies and burnet moths. Results were not tested for statistical significance. Four years after the semi-natural habitat was created, 24 species of butterflies and burnet moths were present on the farm, compared to 20 species before creation. Marbled white Melanargia galathea were present at eight survey sites in 1991, compared to one site in 1987. In 1987, on an intensively managed 30-ha farm with large fields, semi-natural meadows and field margins were created by sowing regional plant species including rosebay willowherb Epilobium angustifolium, danewort Sambucus ebulus, heather Calluna vulgaris and regional meadow seeds. The length of field edges was increased from 7,200 m to 17,420 m. From May–August 1987–1988 and 1991, butterflies and burnet moths were surveyed at sample sites (number not specified) across the whole farm.

    Study and other actions tested
  2. A replicated, site comparison study in 2002–2003 in 38 field margins in an arable region of Minnesota, USA (Davros et al. 2006) found that the abundance of four of eight butterfly species was higher in margins surrounded by more woodland habitat. In areas with more woodland in the surrounding landscape, the abundance of four out of eight butterfly species (orange and clouded sulphur Colias spp., monarch Danaus plexippus and regal fritillary Speyeria idalia) was higher. However, the abundance of one species (least skipper Ancyloxypha numitor) was lower in more wooded landscapes (data presented as model results). A total of 38 field margins (8–148 m wide, and all >3 years old, >350 m long, >1 km apart and with <15% tree or shrub cover) between a crop field and a water course were surveyed. None of the strips were treated with insecticide or fertilizer, and most were infrequently spot-mown or spot-sprayed to control weeds. In July–August 2002 and June–August 2003, butterflies were surveyed twice/year along one 200-m transect/margin, halfway between the water course and crop field. The habitat in a 1-km radius surrounding the midpoint of each transect was classified as “herbaceous habitat”, “crops”, “wooded”, “wetland” or “developed” areas (see paper for details).

    Study and other actions tested
  3. A replicated, site comparison study in 2003–2004 on 24 arable farms in Scania, Sweden (Rundlof & Smith 2006) found that farms in more diverse landscapes had a higher abundance and species richness of butterflies and burnet moths than farms in intensively farmed landscapes. On farms in diverse landscapes, both the abundance (3.6–4.5 individuals/50 m) and species richness (1.4–1.6 species/50 m) of butterflies and burnet moths were higher than on farms in intensively farmed landscapes (abundance: 0.4–1.7 individuals/50 m; richness: 0.3–0.9 species/50 m). Twelve arable farms in diverse landscapes (15% arable land, 19% pasture, small fields (average: 31,600 m2)), and 12 arable farms in intensively farmed landscapes (70% arable land, 3% pasture, large fields (average: 60,200 m2)) were selected. From June–August 2003 and May–August 2004, butterflies and burnet moths were surveyed 5–6 times/year along 400–750 m routes along cereal field boundaries. Individuals occurring 5 m into the crop and in adjacent 2-m uncultivated margins were counted.

    Study and other actions tested
  4. A replicated, site comparison study in 1998–2005 in mixed farmland in Aargau, Switzerland (Roth et al. 2008) found that areas of semi-natural habitat initially supported more butterfly species than farmed land, but over time the number of species decreased in both semi-natural habitat and farmed land. When initially surveyed, there were more species of butterfly in sites managed as Ecological Compensation Areas (ECA, 7.3 species/plot) than in non-ECA sites (5.6 species/plot). However, between the first survey and the second survey, the number of butterfly species decreased overall, but the decreases were similar on ECA and non-ECA sites (both -1.1 species/plot). Most ECA sites were established between 1992 and 1998. Sites were surveyed twice, five years apart, with the first survey taking place in 1998–2000 and the second in 2003–2005. At 52 ECA sites and 35 non-ECA sites, butterflies were surveyed along a 10 x 250 m transect 11 times/year. The authors noted that ECAs were typically established on farmland with potential for maximum biodiversity gain, which may have affected the relative numbers of species found in the first survey.

    Study and other actions tested
  5. A replicated, site comparison study in 2008 on 36 farms in central Scotland, UK (Fuentes-Montemayor et al. 2011) found that farms with more semi-natural habitat had a higher abundance and species richness of moths than farms with less semi-natural habitat. The abundance of both micro-moths and macro-moths, and the species richness of macro-moths, were all higher on farms with more semi-natural habitat (data presented as model results). However, the species richness of micro-moths, and the diversity of both groups, was similar between farms with more and less semi-natural habitat (data presented as model results). In 2004, eighteen farms enrolled in agri-environment schemes, and were paired with 18 similar but conventionally-managed farms, <8 km away. From June–September 2008, moths were collected for four hours, on one night/farm, using a 6 W heath light trap located next to either a field margin, watercourse margin, beetle bank, hedgerow or grassland on each farm. Paired farms were surveyed on the same night.

    Study and other actions tested
  6. A replicated, site comparison study in 2008–2009 in six vineyards in Canterbury Province, New Zealand (Gillespie & Wratten 2012) found that remnant native habitat patches had a higher abundance and species richness of butterflies than amongst the vines, on pasture or in planted native vegetation. In remnant habitat patches, the abundance (14 individuals/section) and species richness (0.7 species) of butterflies was higher than amongst the grape vines (abundance: 8 individuals/section; richness: 0.3 species), on pasture fields (abundance: 7 individuals/section; richness: 0.5 species), or in planted native vegetation (abundance: 3 individuals/section; richness: 0.5 species). See paper for individual species results. Six vineyards, each containing areas of remnant native vegetation (typically stands of matagouri Discaria toumatou and New Zealand bindweed Calystegia tuguriorum) and small (100–200 m2) areas of planted native shrubs and grasses, alongside grape vines and grazed pasture, were selected. From October 2008–April 2009, butterflies were surveyed 13 times (once/fortnight) along a fixed transect through the different habitat patches on each vineyard. Transects were split into 9–14 sections based on habitat type for analysis.

    Study and other actions tested
  7. A replicated, randomized, controlled study in 2007–2010 on 28 arable farms in Wessex and East Anglia, UK (Holland et al. 2015) found that farms with a higher proportion of uncropped habitat had a greater abundance and species richness of butterflies in early summer, but not in mid-summer. On farms where the proportion of uncropped habitat was >7.5%, the species richness of butterflies on field boundaries in early summer (2.9–3.0 species/100 m) was higher than on farms with <7.5% uncropped habitat (1.0–1.6 species/100 m). When the proportion of uncropped habitat was >10%, the abundance of butterflies in the wildlife habitat in early summer was higher than on farms with <10% uncropped habitat (data not presented). See paper for details of species groups. In spring 2007, twenty-four farms (12 in East Anglia and 12 in Wessex) were randomly assigned to two treatments: 16 farms with enhanced agri-environment scheme (AES) habitat (1.5–6.0 ha of floristically-enhanced grass mixes, wildflower strips, wild bird seed mixes and natural regeneration by annual cultivation); and eight farms with Entry-level Stewardship (ELS) habitat (1.5–6.0 ha of grass margins and game cover (usually maize)). Two additional ELS farms/region, already managed organically with 1.5 ha of ELS habitat, were also studied. From 2008–2010, butterflies were surveyed twice/year on 11 fixed 100-m transects, in mid-May–mid-June and mid-July–early August. Eight transects/site were located in AES habitat, and three transects/site were located on field boundaries away from the AES habitat.

    Study and other actions tested
  8. A replicated, site comparison study in 2009–2011 in 133 mixed farms in the Central Plateau, Switzerland (Stoeckli et al. 2017) found that farms managed with larger areas of semi-natural habitat had a higher abundance, but not species richness, of butterflies than farms with less semi-natural habitat. The abundance of butterflies on farms with more semi-natural habitat was higher than on farms with less semi-natural habitat, but there was no difference in butterfly species richness (data presented as model results). A total of 133 farms (17–34 ha, 13–91% arable crops) were managed with “Ecological Compensation Areas” under agri-environment schemes. Management included extensive and low-input meadows with reduced fertilizer and later cutting dates, and the presence of trees, hedgerows and wildflower patches. From May–September 2009–2011, butterflies were surveyed six times on 10–38 transects/farm, totalling 2,500 m/farm. Each transect ran diagonally through a single crop or habitat type, with all available crops and habitats represented. All visits to a farm were completed in a single year, and the species richness was summed across all visits. Total abundance of butterflies was calculated from the number recorded in each habitat, and the availability of each habitat across the farm. Semi-natural habitats on each farm were mapped between May and August.

    Study and other actions tested
  9. A replicated, site comparison study in 2015 on seven arable farms in Germany (Sybertz et al. 2017) found that field margins on farms with more semi-natural habitat in the surrounding area had more butterfly species than margins on farms with less semi-natural habitat. The number of species of butterfly recorded on field margins was higher on farms with more semi-natural habitat within 1 km than on farms surrounded by less semi-natural habitat (data presented as model results). The amount of semi-natural habitat within 1 km of each of seven farms (58–700 ha) was estimated from aerial images. From June–August 2015, butterflies were surveyed six times along 10 permanent, unsprayed and uncropped arable field margins (≥1 m wide, 50–250 m long) on each farm.

    Study and other actions tested
  10. A replicated, site comparison study in 2010–2014 in 50 agricultural areas in the Swiss Plateau, Switzerland (Zingg et al. 2018) found that landscapes with a greater proportion of semi-natural habitat, provided through agri-environment schemes, had a higher abundance and species richness of butterflies than landscapes with less semi-natural habitat. Agricultural areas with more than 20% of the land managed as semi-natural habitat had a higher abundance and species richness of all butterflies than areas with less than 10% semi-natural habitat. The abundance of farmland butterflies, and the species richness of threatened butterflies, was higher in landscapes with more semi-natural habitat than in landscapes with less semi-natural habitat (all data presented as model results). Fifty mixed farming areas (1 km2) were selected where 2.5–32.2% of agricultural land was managed under agri-environment schemes (primarily extensive meadows (cut or grazed once/year, no fertilizers or pesticides) and orchards). Butterflies were surveyed seven times along a 2.5-km transect through each 1-km2 area in one of five years (2010–2014). Species were classified as “farmland species” if they occur in open habitat, and “threatened” species if they were listed as Near Threatened, Vulnerable or Critically Endangered on the Swiss RedList.

    Study and other actions tested
Please cite as:

Bladon A.J., Smith R.K. & Sutherland W.J. (2022) Butterfly and Moth Conservation: Global Evidence for the Effects of Interventions for butterflies and moths. Conservation Evidence Series Synopsis. University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK.

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Butterfly and Moth Conservation

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Butterfly and Moth Conservation
Butterfly and Moth Conservation

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Butterfly and Moth Synopsis

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