Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

butterfly

New research shows that from 1890 to 2017, the Netherland's butterfly numbers declined by at least 84 percent. (Photo: Dutch Butterfly Conservation/Instagram)

As Industrial Farming Exploded Over the Past Century, the Netherlands' Butterfly Population Plummeted 84%

"These are butterflies, which are easy to see, but this will also be happening to all kinds of other insects and animal life."

Jessica Corbett

Bolstering global concerns about declining biodiversity, a new study shows that as industrial farming has expanded in the Netherlands over the past century, the nation's butterfly population has plummeted by at least 84 percent, and 15 native species are now extinct.

The analysis of 71 butterfly species native to the northwestern European country was conducted by Statistics Netherlands and the Dutch Butterfly Conservation, and published Friday in the journal Biological Conservation.

The results of the study are "more evidence of the catastrophic declines insects [and] other invertebrates are suffering globally," Chris Cathrine, director of U.K.-based ecological consulting firm Caledonian Conservation Ltd, said on Twitter.

"These largely ignored animals are the foundations of the ecosystems we all depend on to live," Cathrine added.

Researchers examined butterflies caught between 1890 and 1980 along with scientific data from sightings over the past few decades, up until 2017.

Noting that early collectors of butterflies didn't seek out common species, study coauthor Chris van Swaay of the Dutch Butterfly Conservation told the Guardian that "we are quite sure that the real decline must be much larger."

Distribution of butterfly species

As Van Swaay explained to the newspaper, experts believe a key driver of the regional decline has been industrial farming across the lowlands of western Europe:

Before 1950 or so, grasslands in the Netherlands very much resembled what we now only have left in some nature reserves—they were wet, they had lots of flowers, were lightly grazed, and mown only once or twice a year. This was very low-intensity farming.

In two decades after the 1950s, the countryside was rebuilt—land was drained and planted with one species of grass, large amounts of fertilizer was put on the land, and it was mown six times a year. There is no room for butterflies except on road verges and nature reserves. The countryside is more or less empty.

The Netherlands has received some positive attention for high-tech farming that has cut down on carbon emissions as well as the use fertilizer and pesticides. A 2017 National Geographic article declared, "The Netherlands has become an agricultural giant by showing what the future of farming could look like."

However, some agro-environmental scientists from the country have argued that "Dutch agriculture is not a beacon of good farming practice to the world," and significant reforms are needed for the sake of biodiversity, public health, and the environment.

The new findings on the country's butterfly numbers, Van Swaay said, shows that "industrial agriculture is simply leaving hardly any room for nature."

"It's also happening to farmland birds who eat insects. It goes all the way up the chain from insects to birds to predators."
—Chris van Swaay, Dutch Butterfly Conservation

"These are butterflies, which are easy to see, but this will also be happening to all kinds of other insects and animal life in the soil," he warned. "It's also happening to farmland birds who eat insects. It goes all the way up the chain from insects to birds to predators."

Van Swaay's warning echoes other recent research that has highlighted how unsustainable practices and the climate crisis negatively impact the world's plant and animal species.

A study of German nature reserves from 2017 found that populations of flying insects fell more than 75 percent over 27 years, eliciting fears of a potential "ecological Armageddon." A broader analysis from last year raised concerns about the global climate-driven "bugpocalypse." One expert called it "one of the most disturbing articles I have ever read."

As Common Dreams reported in February, another recent paper cautioned that industrial farming, the climate crisis, and urbanization are causing massive declines of insect populations—and without urgent, systemic changes, the world could soon see a "catastrophic collapse of nature's ecosystems."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

'Do Better,' Say Advocates as Biden Seeks to Double Refugee Admissions

"When thousands of Afghans have been forced to flee their home to find safety, and Haitians are seeking safety on the southern border, the very least the United States can do is set a resettlement goal that meets the moment."

Brett Wilkins ·


Border Patrol Accused of 'Unfathomable Cruelty' for Cracking Whips on Haitians

"It doesn't matter if a Democrat or Republican is president, our immigration system is designed for cruelty towards and dehumanization of immigrants," said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Brett Wilkins ·


As Gov. Tim Walz Proclaims 'Minnesota Climate Week,' Ilhan Omar Says 'Stop Line 3'

"The state of Minnesota simply cannot meet our carbon reduction targets if this pipeline goes through," said the Democratic congresswoman. "Our future is on the line."

Kenny Stancil ·


Supreme Court Announces Date for Case Directly Challenging Roe v. Wade

"The fate of Roe v. Wade and legal abortion is on the line."

Julia Conley ·


Avi Lewis Hoping Canadians' Climate Concerns Deliver Electoral 'Upset of Epic Proportions'

"We need to send Avi to Ottawa to shake up the entire political establishment, including his own party, and tip the scales in favor of people and the planet," said environmentalist David Suzuki.

Brett Wilkins ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo