BUTTERFLIES are declining more rapidly in urban areas than in the countryside.

That’s the findings in a study published in the journal Ecological Indicators has revealed.

But the majority of butterflies living in our towns and cities are emerging earlier and are on the wing for longer than the same species living in rural areas, the study by Butterfly Conservation, the University of Kent and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology found.

Researchers said urban parks, gardens and brownfield sites and farms act as important refuges for butterflies and other wildlife but in recent years these areas have come under increasing pressure from development, habitat loss and climate change.

The study compared trends for 28 species in urban and countryside environments. a and over a 20-year period urban butterfly abundance fell by 69 per cent compared to a 45 per cent decline for butterflies in rural areas.

The Small Copper and Small Heath declined much more dramatically in towns and cities than in the countryside.

From 1995 to 2014 Small Copper numbers fell by 75 per cent in urban areas compared to 23 per cent decline in rural areas and similarly the Small Heath by 78 per cent and 17 per cent.

A spokesman said the causes of these changes require further research but it is likely to be due to the combined effects of habitat loss, intensification of land use and climate change.

Bridport’s Professor Tom Brereton, BC head of monitoring, said: “Seeing butterflies each summer is a vital part of the quality of life for millions of people in the UK.

“The study shows that in urban areas where most people live and experience the natural world butterflies are in even more trouble than in our intensively farmed countryside. We must act now to ensure that we manage the environment to maintain the very things we cherish.”

Lead researcher Dr Emily Dennis from Butterfly Conservation and the University of Kent said: “We used sophisticated statistical techniques to reveal that Practically all butterfly species that we assessed were found to be struggling in urban areas, most likely due to the combined effects of habitat loss, climate changes and the intensification of land use.”

Dr David Roy, CEH head of monitoring, said: “These high quality, world-leading, data are only available because of the continued dedication of thousands of volunteer butterfly enthusiasts contributing to the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme.”

Dr Nigel Bourn, BC director of conservation science, said: “Improving the urban environment is something many of us can make a real contribution too, leaving bits of garden as wild areas, using less chemicals and gardening with wildlife in mind.

“Combined with all our efforts in gardens more can be done in our parks and greenspaces. The same basic principles of wildlife gardening should be adopted across the country as a matter of common sense.”