Maintain traditional orchards to benefit butterflies and moths

How is the evidence assessed?
  • Effectiveness
    not assessed
  • Certainty
    not assessed
  • Harms
    not assessed

Study locations

Key messages

  • Two studies evaluated the effects of maintaining traditional orchards on butterflies and moths. One study was in each of the USA and Germany.


  • Community composition (1 study): One replicated, site comparison study in Germany found that managed orchards had a similar community composition of butterflies and burnet moths to abandoned orchards.
  • Richness/diversity (2 studies): One replicated, site comparison study in Germany found that managed orchards had a similar species richness of butterflies and burnet moths to abandoned orchards. One controlled study in the USA found that an unmanaged and a partially managed orchard had a greater species richness and diversity of leaf-eating arthropods (including caterpillars) than a commercially managed orchard.


  • Abundance (1 study): One replicated, site comparison study in Germany found that managed orchards had a lower abundance of butterflies and burnet moths than abandoned orchards.


About key messages

Key messages provide a descriptive index to studies we have found that test this intervention.

Studies are not directly comparable or of equal value. When making decisions based on this evidence, you should consider factors such as study size, study design, reported metrics and relevance of the study to your situation, rather than simply counting the number of studies that support a particular interpretation.

Supporting evidence from individual studies

  1. A controlled study in 1984–1988 in three orchards in West Virginia, USA (Brown & Welker 1992) found that orchards with reduced management had more leaf-eating arthropod species, including caterpillars, and greater diversity, than a conventionally managed orchard. Three to five years after establishment, the number of species and diversity of leaf-eating arthropods (e.g. insects and mites) in an unmanaged (23–27 species) and a partially managed (21–33 species) orchard were higher than in a conventionally managed orchard (7–11 species, see paper for diversity data). Over five years, the diversity increased in the reduced management orchards, but in the conventionally managed orchard diversity decreased in the third year and remained low (see paper for details). In spring 1984, three orchards (0.30–0.35 ha) were planted with young trees (1–2 cm diameter). Two reduced management orchards had five apple cultivars at 5 × 4-m spacing. One conventional orchard had one apple cultivar at 5 × 7.5-m spacing. The unmanaged orchard was mown three times/year in 1984–1985, but unmanaged thereafter. The partially managed orchard was pruned commercially, with four annual herbicide applications and monthly mowing. The conventionally managed orchard was pruned and fertilized, mown every 3–4 weeks, and received regular herbicide and pesticide applications, which increased in the third year. From April–September 1984–1988, all leaf-eating arthropods were recorded on 5–10 randomly selected trees/orchard, 4–5 times/year.

    Study and other actions tested
  2. A replicated, site comparison study in 2015 in 20 orchard meadows in Saxony, Germany (Ernst et al. 2017) found that managed orchards had a lower abundance of butterflies and burnet moths than abandoned orchards, but species richness and community composition was similar between sites. In managed orchard meadows, the abundance of 35 species of farmland butterflies and burnet moths (16–36 individuals) and 20 species of woodland butterflies and burnet moths (17–20 individuals) was lower than in abandoned orchards meadows (farmland: 25–59; woodland: 36–39 individuals). However, the species richness of both farmland and woodland species was similar in managed (farmland: 4–7; woodland: 4 species) and abandoned (farmland: 4–9; woodland: 4–6 species) orchards. The community composition was also similar in managed and abandoned orchards (data presented as model results). Twenty orchard meadows (0.85–3.34 ha) were surveyed. Eight were managed by summer grazing (May–September, <1 animal/ha, with cattle, sheep, goat, horse or donkey), two were managed by mowing, and 10 were abandoned (not grazed or mown). From May–August 2015, butterflies and burnet moths were surveyed three times along a 20-minute transect on a 0.8 ha patch at each site. Butterflies and burnet moths were classified as 35 farmland and 20 woodland species.

    Study and other actions tested
Please cite as:

Bladon A.J., Bladon, E. K., Smith R.K. & Sutherland W.J. (2023) Butterfly and Moth Conservation: Global Evidence for the Effects of Interventions for butterflies and moths. Conservation Evidence Series Synopsis. University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK.

Where has this evidence come from?

List of journals searched by synopsis

All the journals searched for all synopses

Butterfly and Moth Conservation

This Action forms part of the Action Synopsis:

Butterfly and Moth Conservation
Butterfly and Moth Conservation

Butterfly and Moth Conservation - Published 2023

Butterfly and Moth Synopsis

What Works 2021 cover

What Works in Conservation

What Works in Conservation provides expert assessments of the effectiveness of actions, based on summarised evidence, in synopses. Subjects covered so far include amphibians, birds, mammals, forests, peatland and control of freshwater invasive species. More are in progress.

More about What Works in Conservation

Download free PDF or purchase
The Conservation Evidence Journal

The Conservation Evidence Journal

An online, free to publish in, open-access journal publishing results from research and projects that test the effectiveness of conservation actions.

Read the latest volume: Volume 21

Go to the CE Journal

Discover more on our blog

Our blog contains the latest news and updates from the Conservation Evidence team, the Conservation Evidence Journal, and our global partners in evidence-based conservation.

Who uses Conservation Evidence?

Meet some of the evidence champions

Endangered Landscape ProgrammeRed List Champion - Arc Kent Wildlife Trust The Rufford Foundation Save the Frogs - Ghana Mauritian Wildlife Supporting Conservation Leaders
Sustainability Dashboard National Biodiversity Network Frog Life The international journey of Conservation - Oryx Cool Farm Alliance UNEP AWFA Bat Conservation InternationalPeople trust for endangered species Vincet Wildlife Trust