Durham Argus butterfly project

A basking Durham argus butterfly at Durham Coast

Found – as its name suggests – only in County Durham, the Durham Argus butterfly is an even rarer subspecies of the scarce Northern Brown Argus. Rangers on the Durham Coast have made it their mission to help this little butterfly thrive.

The landscape of the Durham Coast is shaped by outcrops of rare Magnesian Limestone. Cliff top meadows reflect this distinctive geology, with a unique array of wildflowers and insect life. Adult Durham Argus butterflies feed primarily on wild thyme, while its larvae feed on Common Rock-rose. Isolated patches of Rock-rose are found on south-facing grassy slopes of the Durham Coast. This yellow-flowered plant, vital to the butterfly’s survival, has become the focus of rangers’ efforts to boost the species’ chances of a successful future. 

The bright yellow flower of the Common Rock-rose
A single yellow flower of Common Rock-rose

There have been highs and lows in their work. In spring 2015 vandals set fire to large swathes of coastal grassland, damaging or destroying several Rock-rose sites. 

Since then, Trust rangers have kept an especially close eye on the recovery of the Durham Argus and have worked to restore damaged habitats. Recording depleted numbers, but remaining hopeful that the small core population can be nurtured and potentially grow, their efforts have recently experienced a boost. 

Ranger Wayne Appleton has taken the lead in a project to identify and map existing, historic and potential Durham Argus sites, producing a solid basis for a more intensive scheme of habitat improvement. 

" I was inspired to do the project simply because of my love for the sites and how special they are. I also feel a massive responsibility to do the project, the sites have been neglected in the past and I now feel as though we have the chance to do something about it."
- Wayne Appleton, Ranger, Durham Coast
A historic Durham Argus site at Hawthorn Hythe where scrub and bracken will be controlled
Looking south across the bay from Hawthorn Hythe view point on the Durham Coast

The lucky discovery of a report titled ‘Durham Argus on the Durham Coast’ in an office bin in 2016 spurred Wayne on in his research. He unearthed further reports carried out by Dr Sam Ellis and Dr Dave Wainwright in 1997 and 2004. Combining these with his own local knowledge built up over some 23 years working on the coast, along with expert advice from the Butterfly Conservation Trust, Wayne has created a 5 year plan to bring the Durham Argus back from the brink of extinction.

" The Butterfly Conservation Trust have been out and visited the sites and are very happy with what we have done already. They are over the moon with what we intend to do over the next 5 years. We’ve started work on the ground to improve sites. We’re propagating Rock-rose, Wild Thyme, Red Clover and Birds Foot Trefoil at our work base and also in my conservatory at home, ready to plant out in the summer. People can get involved by helping with various tasks. We have a few volunteers that will be helping, but the more the better. "
- Wayne Appleton, ranger, Durham Coast
Rangers clear scrub from a Durham Argus site near Horden
National Trust rangers clear scrub on the Durham Coast

If you’d like to join Wayne’s Durham Argus project team, please email or call him on 07825 948750.