Rare Silver-studded Blue butterfly reintroduced

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Latest update 18.07.2014 09:22

One of Britain’s rarest butterflies, the Silver-studded Blue, is being reintroduced on land at Black Down, West Sussex, in a bid to help safeguard its future.

The Silver-studded Blue has declined rapidly over the past few decades and can now only be seen in colonies on heathland in the south of England and on some coastal limestone grasslands and dune systems.

The heathland colonies, such as at the Silver-studded Blue’s stronghold on the heaths of the Thames Valley basin, are increasingly under threat from urban development pressures in the south east of England, the cessation of grazing and climate change, which is leading to drought and heathland fires.

Heathland jewel

Matthew Oates, our butterfly specialist, said: 'The tiny Silver-studded Blue is one of our heathland jewels. By rights it should be on every area of heathland. However it is a remarkably sedentary species and rarely spreads to form new colonies.

'We would prefer rare butterflies to be able to introduce themselves, but in this case that simply won’t happen and so it’s important for us to give it a helping hand so that people can continue to enjoy it.'

Black Down was identified as a suitable habitat for the Silver-studded Blue following a heathland restoration project which took 12 years to complete. Carried out by our rangers and volunteers, the work restored the land to open heath complete with a canvas of purple heather attracting walkers who can experience uninterrupted views across the South Downs.

Following the restoration work, which included the removal of Scots pine and rhododendron and the introduction of cattle to graze down the vegetation, Tree Pipit and Nightjars have already returned to the area. Sand lizards have already been successfully reintroduced by the Trust.

As the highest point in the South Downs National Park, Black Down is also thought to be less prone to drought and more resistant to some climate change effects, potentially offering the butterfly a long-term future.

A difficult future

Many of the nation’s butterflies are facing a difficult future as their habitats are threatened by development and neglect. All butterflies need to be able to move around the landscape in order to survive, and some, such as the Silver-studded Blue, need to move more frequently than others.

Matthew Oates continued: 'In order to adapt to climate change, this butterfly either needs to move north or uphill, in this case we are taking it uphill.'

Our partnership

Working in partnership with Butterfly Conservation and Natural England, our rangers will reintroduce the Silver-studded Blue to the area over the next three years, providing it with the best chance of success. Butterflies found at neighbouring heaths in the district will be carefully caught and released on to Black Down in the same day.

Dr Dan Hoare, Senior Regional Officer for Butterfly Conservation, said: 'Restoring Silver-studded Blues to Black Down would be a fantastic achievement after all the habitat management carried out by the Trust here.

'Reintroductions aren't a quick fix, but they can really help our rarer butterflies survive in our fragmented modern landscapes.

'Butterflies are a great indicator of the health of the countryside, and people can help us keep track of their changing fortunes by taking part in the Big Butterfly Count this summer, out on a nature reserve or even in their garden.

Reintroduction of the butterflies

David Elliott, our head ranger at the Black Down estate who will be carrying out the reintroduction, said: 'Just 100 years ago, Black Down was open heathland, bearing only a few trees. The work we are doing is benefitting a whole host of other species, so we are hopeful that it will also benefit the Silver-studded Blue.

'We will do our best to ensure the species finds a new home so that if we are successful visitors can come to Black Down and see this striking looking butterfly.'

We will be closely monitoring the progress of the species over the next three years and cutting and burning areas of heather especially for the Silver-studded Blue, as well as heathland bees which like the same conditions.