Duke of Burgundy, Bradenham, Buckinghamshire

Duke of Burgundy - Hamearis Lucina

Britain’s fastest declining butterfly is bouncing back on a Chilterns hillside that 40 years ago was intensively farmed.

In 2010, 20 Duke of Burgundy caterpillars were released onto a steep chalk grassland slope on the  Bradenham Estate as part of a joint project with Butterfly Conservation.

Seven years on numbers of the rare butterfly have doubled, thanks to the efforts of our rangers and a small herd of cattle belonging to local farmer Andy Collingswood.

Countryside manager Neil Harris said: 'In the past we’d have managed the chalk grassland more for wildflowers, keeping more grazing and cutting back the scrub.

'But the Duke needs quite a lot of scrub to shelter from the wind and the rain. We still graze the site with cattle in late summer. By stamping their feet, the cows encourage the cowslips – the butterfly’s foodplant. We’ll also do some scrub clearance, to get a different mosaic of habitats.'

Rangers and our tenant farmer have spent the last four decades returning arable farmland and pasture to chalk grassland – one of fifty struggling ‘priority’ habitat types hand-picked by government as in need of support.

The restoration work has seen the Purple Emperor, one of Britain’s most elusive butterflies, return to the estate.

Alongside Butterfly Conservation, we now plan to release Duke of Burgundy butterflies elsewhere on the 450 hectare estate.

Neil added: 'We’re looking at ways to get the Duke to spread to other sites in the area. It’s just a small hop over the hedge, but that can be a difficult thing for a butterfly that’s no bigger than a two pound coin.'