Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Dear Common Dreams Readers:
Corporations and billionaires have their own media. Shouldn't we? When you “follow the money” that funds our independent journalism, it all leads back to this: people like you. Our supporters are what allows us to produce journalism in the public interest that is beholden only to people, our planet, and the common good. Please support our Mid-Year Campaign so that we always have a newsroom for the people that is funded by the people. Thank you for your support. --Jon Queally, managing editor

Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year. Without your help, we won’t survive.

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.

"I'm sure this will be all over the corporate media, right?"
That’s what one longtime Common Dreams reader said yesterday after the newsroom reported on new research showing how corporate price gouging surged to a nearly 70-year high in 2021. While major broadcasters, newspapers, and other outlets continue to carry water for their corporate advertisers when they report on issues like inflation, economic inequality, and the climate emergency, our independence empowers us to provide you stories and perspectives that powerful interests don’t want you to have. But this independence is only possible because of support from readers like you. You make the difference. If our support dries up, so will we. Our crucial Mid-Year Campaign is now underway and we are in emergency mode to make sure we raise the necessary funds so that every day we can bring you the stories that corporate, for-profit outlets ignore and neglect. Please, if you can, support Common Dreams today.

 

Amnesty Report Demands Biden Take Action to End Death Penalty

"The world is waiting for the USA to do what almost 100 countries have achieved during this past half-century—total abolition of the death penalty," said the group.

Julia Conley ·


Pointing to 'Recently Obtained Evidence,' Jan. 6 Panel Calls Surprise Tuesday Hearing

The announcement came less than a week after the House panel delayed new hearings until next month, citing a "deluge" of fresh evidence.

Common Dreams staff ·


Looming US Supreme Court Climate Decision Could 'Doom' Hope for Livable Future

"The immediate issue is the limits of the EPA's ability to regulate greenhouse gases," said one scientist. "The broader issue is the ability of federal agencies to regulate anything at all."

Jessica Corbett ·


Supreme Court Takes 'Wrecking Ball' to Separation of Church and State With Prayer Ruling

After decades of affirming that prayers led by school officials are unconstitutional, said Justice Sonia Sotomayor, "the court now charts a different path."

Julia Conley ·


Louisiana Judge Blocks State's Post-Roe Abortion Ban

"Abortion care will resume in the state and a hearing has been set for July 8th," said the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Jake Johnson ·

Common Dreams Logo