Butterflies of Madeira

Conservation of Madeira's threatened endemic butterflies

LIFE4BEST M37 Conserving Madeira's Threatened Endemic Butterflies project


Pararge xiphia Pararge xiphia

Nearly 60% of Europe’s threatened butterflies (22 of 38 species) are endemics, and of these six species are confined to the Macaronesian Islands. The islands are therefore a hotspot of threatened endemic butterfly species in Europe. Madeira is home to three of the most endangered species, Gonepteryx maderensis Madeiran Brimstone (Endangered), Pararge xiphia Madeiran Speckled Wood (Endangered) and Pieris wollastoni Madeiran Large White (Critically Endangered).


Thanks to the EU’s LIFE4BEST funding programme for its Overseas Regions, Butterfly Conservation Europe has been working in partnership with Madeira Flora & Fauna to conserve these three endangered species. Whilst the funded phase only lasts from July 2021 to August 2022 a key output of the project will be the production of Action Plans for each butterfly which will hopefully guide future conservation action on Madeira.



The first phase of the project is aimed to improve our knowledge of the distribution and abundance of the target species. The project will map species distributions and identify key areas with suitable habitat for the target species within KBA MAD1 (Madeira Nature Park), improving IFCN’s (Institute of Forestry and Nature Conservation) capacity to implement appropriate management

Gonepteryx maderensis Gonepteryx maderensis

The project also aims to establish a Madeira Butterfly Monitoring Scheme (maBMS), which will include establishing transects in the pristine laurel forest to be walked by the staff of the key local stakeholder, the Institute of Forests and Nature Conservation (IFCN). Butterfly training will be provided to IFCN staff as will other volunteers recruited through a programme of awareness raising workshops for civil society (including nature guides, students, farmers) and tourists. The maBMS will enable the effectiveness of conservation measures targeted at butterflies to be assessed in the coming decades.    

Action Plans for all three target species will be produced and delivered to the IFCN. This will significantly improve our knowledge of these three endemic threatened species and facilitate implementation of appropriate conservation policies and management to halt and reverse their decline.



During September and October 2021, the partnership completed 41 days of survey across 49 sites, mainly focussing on the pristine laurel forests in the north of the island but also sampling other habitats such as mixed forest, exotic forest and mountain heathland.

The team undertook 648 15-minute Counts along 534 km of survey route, recording all butterfly species and their abundance. Some more inaccessible areas were surveyed using drones and there are plans to increase their use in 2022. Over10,000 individual butterflies of fourteen species were recorded during the surveys. There were no sightings of P. wollastoni and as it has not been reliably recorded since 1986, must now be presumed globally extinct - the first European butterfly species in this unenviable category.

Doing the butterfly survey in a levada 2021 Doing the butterfly survey in a levada 2021

G. maderensis was only recorded on 33% of survey routes (117 individuals) and more or less confined to laurel forests, but P. xiphia was both more widely distributed (80% of survey routes) and more abundant (>2,000 individuals) and also encountered in other habitats. Pararge aegeria Speckled Wood is a recent colonist of Madeira and there are concerns it may compete with P. xiphia. This species was recorded on 86% of survey routes (>2,600 individuals), including every one where P. xiphia occurred. Another endemic but not considered threatened is Hipparchia maderensis Madeiran Grayling, which was seen on 41% of survey routes and was the most abundant species overall (nearly 2,700 individuals). The locations of some larval hostplants were also recorded, in particular Rhamnus glandulosa which was quite scarce, probably limiting the distribution of G. maderensis.

These data will enable key areas of butterfly habitat to be mapped in order to ensure they can be adequately protected and managed in the future.


Species Action Plans

One of the important objectives of this project was to produce Action Plans for all target species to contribute to their conservation and provide guidelines for a better recovery of these species in Maderia. We produced three Species Action plans and disseminated them to key stakeholders identified prior to and during the project. The three action plans can be downloaded in pdfs:

Species Recovery Plan Gonepteryx maderensis

Species Recovery Plan Pararge xiphia

Species Recovery Plan Pieris wollastonii



Project Material

How to identify the Madeira butterflies?

You can download for free the digital Madeira Field Guide. BCE and MF&F show you all the tricks to swiftly become an expert! All butterfly species occurring in Madeira are included in this guide, with key features highlighted to help in identification. 

You can download the identification Field Guide to the butterflies of Madeira on pdf and in two different versions:

English version

Portuguese version


Project leaflet in different languages: 



Laurisilva forest Laurisilva forest

Project Promotion

The LIFE4BEST M37 Conserving Madeira's Threatened Endemic Butterflies project has been disseminated in several media during the project duration. 



Social Media: