Butterflies in the News
Although this website is principally about Hampshires Butterflies and Moths flora and fauna. Conservation projects in other counties up and down the UK are important, and to see how we can improve what we are doing in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight
Pearl Bordered Fritillary
Mabie Forest Galloway in Scotland
Rock Rose and Horseshoe Vetch
Belted Galloway cattle
Under-side patterns of the beautiful Heath Fritillary
Victory Wood in Kent
Large Tortoiseshell adult
Large Tortoiseshell caterpillars feeding on Elm they also feed on sallow.
How cattle are helping rare butterflies to thrive at Mabie Forest
A forest in the south of Scotland is seeing a rare butterfly thrive thanks to a surprising friend.
The distinctive Belted Galloway cattle are being used to help the pearl-bordered fritillary flourish.
The last full survey at Mabie Forest near Dumfries in 2019 found numbers had more than doubled on the previous year.
Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS) has been using a range of methods to help the local colony - including letting the heavy cattle in to graze.
The pearl-bordered fritillary has seen numbers rapidly decline across Britain and Ireland, although the fall has been less marked in Scotland.
However, it was still identified in the Scottish Forestry Strategy 15 years ago as one of the country's six priority species.
The forest in Dumfries and Galloway has been at the front line of fighting its corner.
A team of FLS staff manage the vegetation at the forest fringes from April to September to encourage the ground conditions that the butterflies need to thrive.
They also allow a herd of Belted Galloways to keep the grass from getting too long and to create the sort of wet habitat and muddy hollows that the butterflies like.
FLS regional environment advisor Bill Coombes said the story went back to the mid-1990s when - working with Butterfly Conservation Scotland (BCS) - Mabie was identified as having a good habitat for biodiversity in general and butterflies in particular.
Environmental work was carried out to allow wild flowers and grasses to develop.
"To encourage particularly butterflies we have also done some enrichment planting with things like rock rose and dog violet which are particularly attractive as food sources for these butterflies and their caterpillars," he said.
"The numbers of the pearl-bordered fritillary have increased dramatically over the years.
"Of course all it takes is a cold wet spring and the numbers can drop off again," he said.
However, he said numbers had gone from 145 recorded in 2017 up to more than 400 in 2019 - which showed that the general trend was upwards and was good news for the species.
Mr Coombes said heavy cattle had played their part in supporting one of Scotland's biggest colonies.
"Normally in an open grass area, the coarse grasses will take over and gradually push out the wild flowers," he said.
"So having something like the hardy Belted Galloway, they tear up the grass as they are grazing and when they are walking across the site they also break it up, exposing bare ground.
"They give a seed bed to the wild flowers to come in and give them a chance to produce the food for the caterpillars and also for the butterflies themselves.
"It is using a natural system which would have been there in the past as well."
Tom Prescott, BCS senior conservation officer, said the work which had been done was paying off for the pearl-bordered fritillary.
"They are very much a threatened species, they are a priority species - they are on the Scottish biodiversity list and they are a high priority in the BCS conservation strategy," he said.
"Mabie is probably one of the best sites in Scotland, possibly one of the best sites in the UK.
"It is a species that is still declining in lots of parts of the country but it seems to be bucking the trend at Mabie.
"That is probably almost entirely due to the wonderful work that FLS have been doing."
Mr Prescott said rare butterflies and moths were "really, really fussy".
"What pearl-bordered fritillary require is their caterpillars only feed on dog violet and - more than that - the dog violet has to be in a really warm microclimate," he said.
He said that made what was being done at Mabie "very significant".
"So often we are talking about declines of species and being lost from sites so it is really, really nice to report on a species that is doing well," he said.
He said other species, too, were thriving at Mabie such as the forester moth.
Mr Prescott added that the role that nearby livestock were playing was "well known in butterfly circles".
I spend a good deal of my time talking to farmers encouraging them to get more cattle - particularly species like Belted Galloway and Highland cattle - traditional breeds that are hardy enough and able to stay outside," he said.
"Just a few cattle, it just keeps some of these areas really open.
"Where they are walking and they are trampling that creates little areas of bare ground where their hoof prints are and then that is ideal for a germination site for violets or for nectar plants."
At Mabie Forest, it is also allowing their much smaller and more fragile neighbours to flourish.
One of Britain's rarest butterflies has been saved from extinction
The Heath Fritillary is a species of butterfly that was close to extinction in the UK, but thanks to efforts from the Woodland Trust, a new population has been discovered at a conservation site in Kent.
The site, called Victory Wood, was saved from becoming a potential landfill area in 2004 by the charity.
The Woodland Trust has since been recording the wildlife as it returns to Victory Wood.
Site manager, Claire Inglis, said: "The discovery of heath fritillary is a wonderful find and comes after many years of hard work from volunteers and members of the Trust to restore the site to some of its former glory.
This rare butterfly returning shows the importance of this work and we hope to discover more species colonising the site in the months and years to come."
The rare butterfly needs a special set of conditions in order to breed and thrive in an area.
It only lays its eggs on a certain plant, the common cow-wheat plant, but the plant is slow to spread and relies on wood ants to carry its seeds to new areas.
Steve Wheatley, Butterfly Conservation's Regional Conservation Manager, said: "This relationship between the ants, the trees, the flower, and the butterfly is just magical."
Woodland Trust staff noted the presence of wood ants and the reappearance of cow-wheat, and in summer 2020 Mr Wheatley surveyed the area and found it could support the return of the butterfly.
But, signs of the insect in earlier stages of their life cycle - butterflies come from caterpillars - were needed to prove that the butterflies had settled and were using the site.
This spring Butterfly Conservation and Woodland Trust staff and volunteers got down on their hands and knees to look for the caterpillar.
Eventually they spotted the small caterpillar on an oak leaf, and another one not too long after, leaving the team confident that the rare butterfly has now begun to repopulate itself at the site.
"This discovery proves the heath fritillary is now resident at Victory Wood and is an example of how working in partnership is having a positive effect on our native species", added Steve Wheatley.
UK butterflies bounce back to best levels for 20 years, survey finds
23 March 2020
Last updated at 13:32
They're beautiful, bright and we have some brilliant news about them - we're talking about butterflies!
The results for the annual UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme are out, and it's positive news for the butterfly community.
They're at their highest levels in more than 20 years.
There was an increase in butterfly numbers for more than half of UK species in 2019 compared with 2018.
Researchers think the weather had a big part to play in this.
We had a warm and wet summer in 2019 which helped butterflies in their younger stages and when they emerged from their cocoons as adults.
More than 3,000 sites were monitored across the UK by a team of volunteers.
They found the Marbled White Butterfly had its best year, with numbers up by 66%.
However, it's not all good news, the Common Blue dropped by 54% - and it was just one of several species that saw a decline in numbers,
Professor Tom Brereton, associate director of monitoring and research at Butterfly Conservation, said butterfly numbers were still a cause for concern but added: "The results from the 2019 season are really encouraging and provide evidence that the overall rate of decline of butterflies is slowing and for some species being reversed.
"We're really heartened to see a shift in the fortunes of many of our most loved species."
Evidence of Large Tortoiseshell eggs & larvae has been found on Portland – the first time they have been detected wild in the UK for 70 years!
There has been a lot of speculation about the initial origin of Large Tortoiseshells on Portland and we have thought for some time now that they must be breeding there.
Just too many have been seen in the same places for days at a time for them all to be primary immigrants.
With Elm being reported to be the favoured foodplant, the woodland at Pennsylvania Castle/Church Ope Cove seemed likely to be a good place to host a colony.
Will Langdon, who has been following the Large Tortoiseshell trail on Twitter decided to go to Portland on 14/06/2020 to have a look around and succeeded handsomely in his quest with the discovery of the first obvious signs of larval damage.
He tried the Church Ope Cove area and after a few hours searching he eventually found an old larval web, at the eastern end of the ruins of St Andrew’s Church (SY 69698 71117).
The identification was a bit of a challenge for Will as it was about 5-6m up, and while it looked perfect for Large Tortoiseshells, he couldn’t see any larvae in it, or anywhere nearby on the tree.
He tried climbing the tree, but couldn’t get far enough out along the branch to check fully so decided fairly drastic measures were needed to confirm things. He got some shears, climbed the tree, and cut the branch off (after making absolutely sure from the ground there were no larvae!).
This enabled him to see the original egg batch, and 3 sets of shed larval skins (2nd, 3rd and 4th instar he thought). By his own count, there were about 175 eggs, 55 2nd instar skins, 45 3rd instar skins, and 5 4th instar ones.
From what he has been able to glean from the internet and books he felt that it appears to be a classic spot for larvae – a warm, little clearing, sheltered on all sides by taller trees and about 5-6m up on a tree facing S/SW.
He searched the trees as thoroughly as he could from the ground with binoculars and could see no sign of any larvae – what with the size of the larvae seen in Weymouth at the start of the month and the hot weather, he thought that they had already pupated.
The damage was fairly obvious from the ground, which made him think that he didn’t miss any other webs in the areas that he was able to search properly.
There are also a few more elms in gardens off Church Ope road to the north, and on the road heading through Wakeham and north out of Easton. They’re planted as street trees on the side of the road at the latter location, so a little exposed, but nice and sunny, so might be good and worth checking.
Action needed now
A report of a fresh adult Large Tortoiseshell on Portland in Perryfield Quarry (not too far from the larvae-stripped elm at Church Ope Cove) has been received so others could now be on the wing.
We would therefore now ask and encourage as many of you as possible to go out looking for these butterflies on Portland and help to chart what will hopefully be their spread.
Please do ensure that when you are out searching you follow all the Covid-19 guidelines regarding social distancing etc and do not trespass on private land.
Any seen from now ought to be spending their time building up food & energy for a long hibernation. Observations of what they are feeding on & any other activities observed would be very useful.
Please email details of all your sightings of Large Tortoiseshells to our Records Officer for Dorset, Bill Shreeves at email@example.com and also enter your sightings on the Dorset branch recording site at:
The Dorset Group of Butterfly Conservation would very much like record their thanks to Will Langdon for all the information he has given us and for allowing us to use this information and his photos in this article. Without it we would not have been able to pass this information to you.
Marbled White numbers increased by 66% in 2020
Common Blue numbers dropped by 54% in 2020
The Chequered Skipper can once again be seen in Rockingham Forest at a secret location
Research was the utmost importance when the Skipper was reintroduced into the right environment, for a successful reintroduction, conditions had to be just right, larval food plants and nectaring plants for a breeding pair to be happy with their surroundings, which seems to have been successful in 2019.
The first breeding pair of Chequered Skippers in the UK for 40 years.
Typical pose of a male on top of an unrolled Fern leaf, ready to pounce on an invading butterfly into its territory.
Chequered Skipper re-introduced into Rockingham Forest
In May 2018, the Chequered Skipper butterfly, extirpated from England in 1976, was reintroduced to Rockingham Forest in Northamptonshire by Butterfly Conservation as part of ‘Back from the Brink’—a mammoth collaboration between 7 conservation organisations which aims to save 20 species from extinction and benefit over 200 more through 19 projects across England. The ‘Roots of Rockingham’ project — led by Butterfly Conservation and to which the Chequered Skipper reintroduction belongs — can count the Wildlife Trust BCN amongst its delivery partners, which also include Forestry England, Natural England and the Boughton Estate.
After the first donor population of Chequered Skippers sourced from the Fagne-Famenne region of Belgium was successfully translocated to Rockingham Forest in 2018, there was a degree of apprehension surrounding emergence of the first generation of ‘native’ (the purists take issue with describing imported butterfly stock as such) English Chequered Skippers in 2019: we were unsuccessful in observing females lay eggs during the flight period or locating larvae in the aftermath of it, and therefore had no way of confirming that the release site was silently stocked with the immature offspring of Belgian females. Additionally, 2018's hot, dry summer—similar to the drought of 1976, which anecdotal, unsubstantiated evidence suggests was the death knell for the remnants of the historic English colonies—led to most of the release site drying up. For all the planning and graft that had gone into the project to that point, ultimately we could do nothing more than wait and see.
In early May 2019, a warm spell roughly coinciding with the earliest pane of the Chequered Skipper emergence window did not lead to sightings. Favourable weather deteriorated thereafter without a solitary glimpse of the scrappy golden-brown butterfly. Later in May however, good weather returned, and great relief was felt by all as David James (Northants County butterfly recorder) photographed the first English Chequered Skipper on the wing for 43 years! All unease now diffused, a mass influx of adult ‘CS’ soon followed, and a squadron of volunteers descended on the release site—volunteers which would go on to donate in excess of 400 combined hours of surveying time in the ensuing weeks as they collected timed count data on the Chequered Skipper, other butterflies and taxa from their individually assigned routes.
I, meanwhile, have a different, more autonomous agenda as a postgraduate researcher in Environmental Science at the University of Northampton. My PhD requires I undertake behavioural studies that will offer insight into the species’ ecology in its restored Rockingham Forest habitat, and I met this obligation in 2019 by observing Chequered Skippers going about their daily routines and making field recordings of over a dozen different variables (e.g. flight and nectaring duration) on a dictaphone as I did so. This oral data will be transcribed and analysed and ultimately enable us to describe the species’ traits and habitat preferences in England. After the 2019 flight period was over, my attention switched to vegetation surveys—of sward height, nectar and host plant availability, as well as other ride features potentially important to all stages of the butterfly’s life-cycle. This habitat data will, in part, be compared to adult CS abundance: for example, if the butterfly transpires to be biased to areas where bugle Ajuga reptans (the species’ primary nectar source) or other flowering species are most prevalent, it could be a limiting factor to dispersal rates.
Adult male CS were observed territorially ‘lekking’ this year—scrapping it out for supremacy along tram lines created by recreational use—in one of a couple of activity hotspots. Males appear to prefer to establish territories (on grass blade perches which afford good visibility of surrounding habitat, passing females and encroaching invertebrates) in herb-rich grassland of shorter modal sward heights; an annually mown layer structurally divorced from mid-to-late successional ribbons of dense tussocks that the illusive females potentially spend more of their time fluttering amongst, which consequently makes them far harder to trace.
Despite our best efforts, we were again unable to directly observe females egg-laying during the 2019 flight period, however unlike last year, we have been successful on our larval hunts! Larvae have cropped up in a range of microhabitats which appear to have little in common structurally other than the species of host plant chosen (Calamagrostis epigejos wood small-reed), and I suspect macronutrient concentrations in candidate grass blades play a key part in the female’s selection process.
These curiosities, amongst many others, will hopefully be demystified in the coming years. Thankfully, I have only just formally begun the second year of my studies, so time is on my side. The beauty of what I do is that every aspect of my research is a discovery—it is not every day that an extinct species of butterfly is reintroduced to a country, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to be a part of this project (arguably with the best role of all!) and I am incredibly grateful to the Butterfly Conservation and the University of Northampton for supporting my studies.
We would massively appreciate additional volunteers in 2020 and beyond to record sightings of Chequered Skippers alongside other butterfly species and taxa monitoring, so please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or Susannah O’Riordan (Project Officer, Roots of Rockingham) at email@example.com if you are interested in contributing to this historic project!
Dartmoor Delivery Plan for Pearl Bordered and High Brown Fritillaries
Description and Importance of the Species
The two species have been combined in this Action Plan because they share very similar habitat requirements on Dartmoor. The high brown fritillary is the more rare species, and all sites with a population of high brown fritillary also have pearl-bordered fritillaries. Like all fritillary butterflies, the two species are deep orange in colour with black markings. The pearl-bordered fritillary is distinguished from the similar small pearl-bordered fritillary by having two large silver ‘pearls’ and a row of seven small pearls bordered by orange chevrons on the underside of the hind wing. It is one of the earliest butterflies to appear, emerging as a butterfly in late April on south-facing bracken slopes on Dartmoor. The flight period is generally until late May.
The high brown fritillary is a larger butterfly, and has pale green hind wings with mottled white, black and orange markings. The row of brown marks with central white pupils on the underside of the hind wing distinguishes the butterfly from the similar dark green fritillary. The adults start to emerge in mid-June and can be seen until early August. Both species lay their eggs on violet leaves, the larval food plant, or on bracken or leaf litter close to violet plants. When fully grown, the pearl-bordered caterpillars are 2.5cm long jet-black with black, yellow or orange spikes; they emerge about two weeks after egg-laying, they then hibernate in the bracken litter until early spring and spend much time basking in bracken litter, before pupating and emerging as butterflies a few weeks later. High brown caterpillars are brown with dark pink spiky hairs, and are very well camouflaged in dead bracken litter. They overwinter in the egg stage, and hatch in March when warm conditions are needed for the larvae to develop rapidly. Both species are semi-colonial, though they can disperse widely between colonies and their distribution pattern is more akin to a met population. Isolated or fragmented populations are very vulnerable
Whilst both fritillary species are still widespread across most of Europe, they have suffered dramatic declines in England and Wales in the last 50 years, with losses being more widespread and critical for high brown fritillaries. The pearl bordered fritillary is now locally extinct in most of Wales and central and eastern England. The high brown fritillary can now only be found in parts of Devon, Wales, Cumbria and Lancashire. They are listed on Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act and are considered to be ‘Nationally Scarce’ in Britain. Current Status on Dartmoor The population of pearl-bordered fritillaries on Dartmoor is considered to be relatively stable: the average over the last four years shows that the population consists of around 60 sites around the National Park, which is more or less unchanged since the 1990s. This represents about 20% of the UK total population. The average count of high brown fritillaries over the last five years has remained stable at an average of 13 sites, which is a decline of about 50% since the 1990s on Dartmoor. They are most abundant in the extreme west and east of Dartmoor, in the Dart and the Walkham Valleys, where there is the highest prevalence of suitable habitat. This consists of extensively grazed, south facing, bracken slopes with an understorey of violets. It is important that there is a good layer of broken-down bracken litter, which creates the warm conditions in the spring for speedy larval development (the temperature in the bracken litter layer can be 15-20 degrees centigrade warmer than adjacent grassland). These sites can be on common land or on in-bye (enclosed farmland).
However, patchy bracken and scrub control to improve grazing occurs on some sites 2. Conversely, overgrazing and poaching can also lead to the deterioration of suitable habitat into a grassier sward 3. Extensive burning of bracken litter occurs at some sites and can destroy overwintering eggs and larvae. However, burning patches on rotation can be effective at removing dense bracken litter build-up and often subsequently results in good violet densities. 4. A recent succession of mild wet winters favours the growth of grasses and bluebells, leading to cooler ground conditions that are unsuitable for the caterpillars of these species
Current Initiatives on Dartmoor 1. Both species are monitored annually as part of the Two Moors Threatened Butterfly Project (TMTBP), which uses local Butterfly Conservation (BC) members to undertake counts on around 80 sites.
2. Through the TMTBP, sites that have pearl-bordered or high brown fritillaries are brought into suitable management through agri-environment schemes (around 60 sites).
3. Twenty-two sites are owned or managed by conservation organisations: four sites (Holne, Ramshorn, Pepperdon and Blackingstone) are in DNPA management agreements or ownership; six sites are under Devon Wildlife Trust (DWT) management, nine sites are under National Trust (NT) management and three sites are on land in Natural England (NE) ownership; furthermore, the Woodland Trust (WT) have acquired a new site with pearl-bordered fritillaries known to be present; annual survey and management takes place at these sites.
1. Maintain current populations on Dartmoor with presence recorded from at least 13 high brown and 60 pearl-bordered fritillary sites a year, when measured as an average over the past five years. 2. Number of sites recorded in suitable condition to increase by 20%, from a current 80 sites to 96 sites in 2020.