Pearl-bordered Fritillary butterflies have chosen Devon as their safe haven. As numbers decline drastically across the rest of the country, Devon is one of the species strongholds. Scientists at the charity Butterfly Conservation have now announced a plan to help the butterfly expand across the county – saving it from extinction.
Super highways, linking sites where the butterfly is already thriving to other sites of suitable habitat, will enable butterflies to spread more effectively.
Pearl-bordered Fritillaries, with their pretty orange and black markings, fly in woodland clearings in late April and May, in Devon. Their caterpillars eat wild violets and the adult butterflies feed on nectar from spring flowers such as Bugle. Devon is a stronghold for this species, supporting over 50 colonies. Most colonies are located on Dartmoor, but the butterfly is found in several woodlands along its eastern fringes. Haldon Forest has been identified as an ideal location for a butterfly highway. This area of forest is home to one of the strongest Pearl-bordered colonies in the county, but numbers are relatively low at the nearby sites of North Wood and Great Plantation.
For the project to be a success Butterfly Conservation will need to clear scrub and bracken from more than three acres of forest. The traditional practice of coppicing trees will let light in where dense foliage is preventing the growth of the flowers this butterfly needs to survive. The charity also hopes to plant 3,000 Dog-violets to provide an instant food source and encourage butterflies to breed and travel between the three Forestry Commission-owned sites.
David Land, Butterfly Conservation Devon Branch Member, said:
“I have been monitoring Pearl-bordered Fritillaries on Haldon for more than 25 years and most are confined to a small area, which is vulnerable because of its size. We know this butterfly colonises even the smallest suitable area within the woodland and this year we found small numbers in new areas which indicates that fresh colonies would establish themselves if this work can be funded. Each year when I am undertaking timed counts I meet butterfly enthusiasts from all over the country who are thrilled to see the Pearl-bordered Fritillary here, many of whom have never seen it before and who are interested to know how we can ensure its continued survival on Haldon.”
SITA Trust has just awarded Butterfly Conservation a grant of more than £24,000 towards the work to protect butterflies at Haldon Forest, North Wood and Great Plantation.