UK’s most endangered butterfly thrown a lifeline by the National Trust

The enigmatic High Brown Fritillary, the UK’s most endangered butterfly, has been thrown a vital lifeline in 2018 through the creation of a new conservation project led by the National Trust and partners. With the charity now embarking on an ambitious plan to develop 60 hectares of lowland heath and wood pasture – the butterfly’s principal habitat – to give it a fighting chance for the future. The project has been made possible as part of a £750k award made to the Trust by players of People’s Postcode Lottery.

 Over the last 50 years, the UK population of High Brown Fritillaries has declined rapidly due to changes in woodland management and, more recently, the abandonment of marginal hill land. Butterflies, including the High Brown Fritillary, need large areas of the countryside to survive in good numbers, and their populations have struggled where these habitats have been overwhelmed by pressures from agriculture and development. Additionally, it is thought that climate change and nitrogen deposition from the atmosphere are almost certainly contributing to the High Brown’s demise. Overall, the UK population has declined by 66% since the 1970s.

 The £100k project will focus on restoring parts of the natural landscape along the Exmoor and North Devon coast to make it more suitable for the butterfly. Other wildlife including the Heath Fritillary, Nightjar and Dartford warbler will also benefit, it is thought.

 Matthew Oates, National Trust nature expert and butterfly enthusiast, said, “We’ve witnessed a catastrophic decline of many native butterfly populations in recent decades but initiatives like this can really help to turn the tide. Combined with increased recording and monitoring efforts, there is significant hope for some of our most threatened winged insects.

 The support we have from players of People’s Postcode Lottery for nature conservation, alongside continued support for Heritage Open Days, is a wonderful boost to our work in 2018.”

 Jenny Plackett, Butterfly Conservation’s Senior Regional Officer, said: “We’ve been working with the National Trust for many years to reverse the declines in the High Brown Fritillary on Exmoor, and I’m thrilled that players of People’s Postcode Lottery are supporting important management work in this landscape. Exmoor’s Heddon Valley supports the strongest population of High Brown Fritillary in England, but even here the butterfly remains at risk, and ongoing efforts to restore habitat and enable the butterfly to expand are crucial to its survival.”

As well as helping secure the future of High Brown Fritillaries, the £750k award from players of People’s Postcode Lottery will be used to fund several other National Trust conservation projects, along with continuing support for Heritage Open Days. They include:

  • Woodland management, pond creation, building bat boxes and installing infra-red cameras to monitor bat populations in the South Downs.
  • Restoring wildflower meadows along the Durham coast to help ground nesting birds such as skylarks and lapwings.
  • Planting hornbeam, beech and field maple trees at Woodside Green near Hatfield Forest.
  • Restoring grasslands and wildflower meadows along the North Pembrokeshire coast, helping birds including chough.
  • Protecting and restoring chalk grasslands at the White Cliffs of Dover, following players’ support towards the acquisition of land immediately behind the cliff face in 2017.

Header Image: Matthew Oates, courtesy of National Trust images.

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