Saving a population of pearl bordered fritillary at Cwm Soden, Ceredigion
A secluded population of Pearl bordered fritillary hang on in Ceredigion, on the coastal slopes of Cwm Soden a few miles south of New Quay. To save this butterfly’s habitat, we’ve embarked on a habitat restoration and creation project.
Cwm Soden is a steep sided valley with remnant ancient woodland nestled in the valley bottom; a landscape that is diverse, complex and with a long history of being managed (coppiced) as a sustainable source of fuel and materials.
The coppice has now sadly lapsed and the trees have grown mature, shading out the valley floor, however, walking through the woodland, you can still have a sense of what this woodland would have been like as an active coppice. As well as a fuel source, this coppice would have accidentally provided a range of wildlife habitats, with the pearl bordered fritillary particularly finding this area a perfect habitat.
This beautiful spring butterfly is most at home in woodland clearings, wooded glades, coppiced areas and when under pressure will eke out an existence in the bracken banks. Changes in land management at Cwm Soden over the years meant that the traditionally coppiced woodland was no longer actively managed, reducing the amount of available habitat for the butterfly. Today, we are sadly faced with a population dependent on the bracken banks, and the population on the brink of disappearing from Cwm Soden.
We wanted to stop this from happening and in 2017, with funding from Natural Resource Wales, and support from the Butterfly Conservation Trust and the Ceredigion Biodiversity Partnership, we started to change the management of this wooded valley.
We’re aiming to regenerate the management of the past, in order to protect wildlife for the future. Our project involves restoring the habitat, by fencing the valley floor to introduce grazing to the meadows, cutting rides in the woodland and changing the way we manage our farm which sits above the Cwm Soden valley.
This year we’ve started cutting the trees along the woodland ride and glades, implemented a programme of bracken cutting and saw the ponies preparing the ground for flowers to grow. We’re already seeing very positive signs, with a significant increase in flowering plants, especially the Dog Violet, a key species for the pearl bordered fritillary.
To give this population the best chance at survival, changes in woodland management at Cwm Soden is only the start. We need to find a way of expanding their habitat, beyond Cwm Soden valley.
Sitting above the valley, is the National Trust farm, Caerllan, a lovely example of a traditional small West Wales farm, which retains its small fields and rambling historic boundaries and edges. The hedges weaving through the fields, acting as highways to help wildlife move across the landscape; of particular importance at Caerllan as the pearl bordered fritillary’s habitat is under such pressure in the adjacent valley.
Once the fortunes of the species start to increase, these hedges will provide a vital nectar source for the butterflies, creating a link between Cwm Soden and the neighbouring valley at Cwm Tydu. This is what we’re aiming towards, changing the management and creating those links in order to vastly expand the habitat availability, giving the population a better chance of survival.