Code of Practice

Interest in butterflies has increased dramatically since the advent of digital cameras and the ready 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 however there are a few adverse side-effects. In particular the extra interest tends to place a burden on sensitive sites, with consequent ill effect on the butterfly populations. Accordingly this code 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 via the capture of voucher specimens. Such proof of the existence of rarities and/or high biodiversity increases the conservation value of a site significantly, and is required by governments when considering the allocation of protected status to wildlife habitats.

Enormous numbers of Morphos, Birdwings and other large colourful species are killed in the tropics for sale to the souvenir trade. Many people consider this to be a deplorable practice that destroys living creatures unnecessarily. It does however provide a living for some of the poorest people in the world and has little impact on butterfly populations so long as their habitats are preserved.

Netting butterflies in mark / recapture projects helps biologists 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 amateur naturalists, thereby increasing their knowledge and their commitment to conservation.

Killing European or North American butterflies is rarely necessary, as with very few exceptions, all species can be identified alive, and in most cases without netting, let alone killing them, simply by using one of the many excellent field guides. Amassing specimens like postage stamps, or killing / purchasing them for wall displays is selfish, illegal and irresponsible.

Breeding in captivity

There is little harm in capturing an occasional female butterfly or moth for breeding. Rearing from eggs to adults fosters a deeper interest and 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. Bred livestock is genetically weaker, emerges out of sync with wild populations, attracts high numbers of parasitoids and predators to the release site, and causes havoc with recording schemes.

Butterflies are best studied and appreciated alive 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 experts sometimes capture females from strong 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 are set to become a vital conservation tool in the future. Re-introductions must however always 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 schemes and continual monitoring of 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. This causes disturbance to wildlife, damage to fragile habitats, and diminishes the tranquillity of the countryside.

Most landowners are pro-conservation, and welcome the public on their property, but are likely to be far less sympathetic if their land is subjected to large numbers of visitors. Please therefore help to alleviate the pressure by not visiting popular sites at peak times. Visit mid-week if you can. Try to visit less well-known sites instead. 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. 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. keeps the publication of sensitive information to a minimum. 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 and photographing butterflies. You also save fuel and travelling time. It’s a good idea to obtain 1:10000 scale maps covering a radius of 20 miles of your home. Different types of habitat such as deciduous woodland, coniferous woodland, grassland and heaths are clearly indicated, as are public footpaths.

Most of us travel long distances to see rarities, 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 without a car for a while and was forced to limit myself to local sites. 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. 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 ?

Eco-tourism is a powerful conservation tool. Places like the Danum Valley rainforest in Borneo, the Manu biosphere reserve in Peru, the cloudforests of Ecuador, the game parks of East Africa and the tiger sanctuaries of India only survive because of the demand by eco-tourism for their retention. Without the income and employment generated by eco-tourism these 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