Code of Practice
collecting | moth trapping | breeding | re-introductions
visitor pressure | staying local | eco-tourism

Interest in butterflies has increased enormously with the advent of digital cameras and easy availability of information on the internet. This interest is beneficial to butterflies as it highlights their importance and encourages the conservation of their habitats. Unfortunately there are a few adverse side-effects - in particular it can place a burden on sensitive species and fragile sites, hence this Code which has been developed in consultation with several conservationists, ecologists and members of the butterfly-watching public :


Collecting and netting

In tropical countries, collecting butterflies can aid conservation. It confirms the presence of species that cannot be identified in the field, and provides proof in the form of voucher specimens that certain species exist at given sites. This proof of the existence of rarities or high biodiversity increases the conservation value of a site and is required by governments when considering the allocation of protected status to wildlife habitats.

Netting butterflies in Britain as part of a mark / recapture project enables ecologists to understand population dynamics and leads to an increased understanding of conservation requirements. It is also educationally valid for a field meeting leader to capture butterflies temporarily to demonstrate identification features to less experienced attendees, thereby increasing their knowledge, and their commitment to conserving butterflies.

Killing British, European or North American butterflies is unnecessary as all species can be identified ALIVE, and in most cases without netting, let alone killing them, simply by carrying one of the many excellent field guides. Amassing specimens like postage stamps, or capturing / purchasing them for wall displays is selfish, illegal and utterly irresponsible.

Fragmentation, degradation or destruction of habitats has caused most European butterflies to decline catastrophically in recent decades. Many species are now found only in low numbers, and at just a handful of sites. Killing or removing butterflies from such vulnerable populations can easily cause local extinctions.


Moth trapping

Moths are mostly nocturnal, so the only way to record them is by sugaring or trapping. It should however be carried out with constraint. In Europe most species, with the exception of certain "micros" can be identified alive. There is no valid excuse to kill them.

Trapping for identification  can prove the conservation value of a site, and if carried out on a small scale does no long-term harm to populations.

Subsequent release of the moths is often done in an irresponsible way - moths tipped into a patch of long grass at dawn will very quickly fall prey to birds. Trapped moths should be kept cool to minimise activity and prevent dehydration. They should be returned to the original capture site the following night, and released after dark, when they at least have a chance of survival. If moth trapping enthusiasts are not prepared to go to these lengths they should refrain from trapping entirely.

Breeding in captivity

There seems little harm in capturing an occasional female butterfly or moth for breeding. Rearing from eggs to adults encourages a deeper interest, and thereby increases the likelihood that the rearer will progress to take an interest in conservation.
Disposing of surplus livestock however creates major conservation issues - the common practice of dumping surplus livestock is highly irresponsible, and worse than killing them - bred stock will be genetically weaker, will emerge out of sync with wild populations, may attract high numbers of parasitoids and predators to the release site, and causes havoc with recording schemes.

Butterflies are best studied and appreciated alive and in their natural environment.

They can be studied through binoculars, cameras, painting, drawing, or simply by keeping notes on their behaviour. The pleasure of seeing a butterfly feeding at a flower, or studying its courtship behaviour, is a million times more satisfying than looking at a butterfly in a cage, or a dead specimen in a display case.



If wildlife habitats were contiguous, butterflies could naturally recolonise sites from which they had temporarily been lost. Unfortunately, habitats are severely fragmented, and most butterfly species are very sedentary in nature, so natural recolonisations are rare.

Because of this, conservation organisations sometimes capture females from strong and healthy populations, and transfer them to former sites so that artificial recolonisation can occur.

Increasing fragmentation of habitats and isolation of colonies means that re-introductions will become a vital conservation tool in the future.

Re-introductions MUST however be carried out professionally with a full understanding of the effect on donor populations, and suitable long-term habitat management in place at the receiving site, which must be analysed in great detail to assess it's suitability.

Transects, mark and recapture programs, and continual monitoring of the larval foodplants and adult nectar sources must be in place, otherwise the reasons for the success or failure of a re-introduction cannot be understood.


Visiting butterfly sites

Many popular butterfly sites suffer from intense visitor pressure, causing disturbance to wildlife, damage to fragile habitats, and diminishing the tranquillity of the countryside.

Landowners are generally pro-conservation, and welcome the public on their property, but are likely to be considerably less sympathetic if their land is subjected to large numbers of visitors.

Avoid visiting popular sites at peak times in order to alleviate the pressure on such sites. Visit mid-week if you can or visit less well-known sites. You often then have the place to yourself, with just the birds and butterflies for company.

Photographers should be aware of the unwitting damage they can cause by trampling of foodplants and nectar sources, or disturbing nesting birds. Keep to footpaths wherever possible, and abide by requests to stay out of particular areas.

Be an ambassador for butterfly conservation. Encourage people you meet to take an interest in butterflies. Tell them about learnaboutbutterflies so they can find out more, in their own time.

Authors and webmasters should be alert to the danger of publicising sensitive species or fragile sites - several such sites in southern England have been damaged by excessive visitor pressure as a result of over-enthusiastic publicity.

learnaboutbutterflies minimises site information. We encourage people to explore the lesser known sites, particularly in their local area. About 90 percent of the British butterfly photographs on this website were taken within a 20 mile radius of the webmaster's home !


Staying local

Get to know your local habitats intimately. By concentrating on local sites, you can spend more time watching photographing butterflies, less time travelling, and save fuel.

It's a good idea to obtain 1:10,000 scale maps covering a radius of 20 miles of your home. Different habitat types such as deciduous woodland, coniferous woodland or grassland are clearly indicated, enabling you to detect many new habitats.

Most of us to travel long distances to see species such as Black Hairstreaks, Swallowtails or Chequered Skippers, but local sites can reward you with many surprises -  A few years ago I regularly travelled 40 miles to a particular wood to see Silver-washed Fritillaries and White Admirals. Then I suddenly found myself unemployed for 2 months and was forced to limit myself to local sites that could be reached cheaply by public transport. Surprisingly I discovered thriving populations of both species in a previously unvisited woodland just 3 miles from my home. Another local wood was found to have Purple Emperors and several rare moths !


We only have one lifetime to fulfil our dreams, and many of us have a deep longing to visit rainforests and other distant habitats to watch butterflies, birds and other animals. But, with holes in the ozone layer, mounting carbon emissions, and global warming threatening the planet, how can we justify the long-haul flights ?
Because eco-tourism is a powerful conservation tool. Consider places like the Danum Valley rainforest in Borneo, which only survives because of the demand by eco-tourists for it's retention, and the increased employment and wealth generated by eco-tourism. The same can be said of much of the Amazon, the cloudforests of the Andes, the game parks of East Africa, the tiger reserves of India, the orang-utan reserves of Kalimantan etc.
Without the income and employment generated by eco-tourism, these wonderful places would simply not exist any more. The precious little of the natural world which remains would be cultivated or urbanised out of existence.
"Eco-tourism makes the forest more valuable standing, than it is when cut down"
 - Marina Silva, Brazilian Environment Minister.


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