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Our work for butterfly conservation

A large blue butterfly resting on a clover flower at Collard hill, Somerset.
A large blue butterfly at Collard Hill, Somerset | © National Trust Images/Brian Cleckner

We carefully manage the gardens and landscapes in our care, to create and maintain diverse natural habitats for wildlife. Find out how we’re helping increase butterfly populations, through habitat management and monitoring, and discover some of the rare species we’re bringing back from the brink.

Managing habitats for butterfly species

Habitat loss is the number one reason for the dip in butterfly numbers in Britain, with some species having very specific needs to thrive and breed. Farming and forestry, although essential, have a huge impact on insect habitats, but innovative management systems can help.

Holistic grazing

Specialised grazing systems use low numbers of native cattle and sheep, which create a mixture of tall and short vegetation. Wild flowers and grasses can flower freely, providing abundant nectar sources for adult butterflies. The holistic grazing scheme at South Park, Croome, has transformed a heavily grazed area to thriving grassland. This means there are good breeding conditions for species such as Essex skipper and marbled white butterflies, whose caterpillars eat grasses.

Woodland management

Clever management of woodlands creates sunny glades and rides, and a mix of young and old trees. These are vital for many of our woodland butterflies. A great example is the wood-pasture restoration at Croft Castle, where dense conifer plantations have been removed. The reintroduction of native trees and grassland have already attracted uncommon species such as silver-washed and dark green fritillaries. We also hope the increase in native flowers will attract the wood white, one of Britain’s most threatened butterflies.

Small pearl-bordered fritillary butterfly in long grass, Sherbrook Valley, Shugborough Estate, Staffordshire
Small pearl-bordered fritillary, Shugborough Estate | © National Trust Images/Rob Coleman

Improving diversity in parklands

Kedleston is just one example of a property where the parkland is being managed to increase the diversity of flowering plants within the grassland. We've already seen a good improvement in numbers of ringlet, meadow brown, gatekeeper, and small tortoiseshell butterflies. The mature trees are also supporting populations of rarer butterflies like the purple hairstreak and white-letter hairstreak.

Future work for butterflies

We have further plans to help butterflies through habitat restoration projects. Other schemes include working with landowners to connect areas with good butterfly populations, so that they can move through the landscape.

Monitoring butterflies

We record butterfly populations, with a fixed width band (typically 5m wide) along the transect each week, from the beginning of April until the end of September. At Hardwick Hall there are monitoring transects in the parkland and the garden. These demonstrate how having a variety of habitats, increase the diversity of butterflies that can be spotted.

Wider Countryside Butterfly Surveys

We undertake Wider Countryside Butterfly Surveys (WCBS), based on surveys of 1km squares randomly allocated by Butterfly Conservation. We’ve established WCBSs at Attingham, Brilley and Charlecote, with one due to start at Dudmaston this year. These specifically track the butterflies on farmland in our care and compare with trends on other farmland.

Where butterflies are thriving

In the Dark Peak you might be lucky enough to see rare butterfly species. Upland and moorland habitats provide specialist food and shelter for butterflies with very specific needs to thrive. The steep valley woodlands, rolling grassland and heathland attract hairstreak butterflies. These are found high in the tree canopy, while small heaths flit through the long grass.

Migrating butterflies

The painted lady is a regular favourite in England. The species migrates each spring from the desert fringes of North Africa and gradually moves across Europe with each breeding cycle. In the autumn, many of the last brood will attempt the return migration to North Africa.

Ranger doing butterfly survey at Hughenden, Buckinghamshire
Butterfly survey at Hughenden, Buckinghamshire | © National Trust Images/Gill Sandford

How we're helping rare butterflies

Rare butterflies are doing well at the places in our care, thanks to the work of our rangers and tenant farmers. Together, they've helped bring struggling species back from the brink.

Marsh fritillary, Lake District
The marsh fritillary, one of Europe’s most protected butterflies, is marching across the Ennerdale valley in the Lake District. This follows an innovative grazing scheme and a period of warm weather.Our work at Ennerdale
Adonis blue, Gloucestershire
The scarce Adonis blue disappeared from Rodborough Common, near Stroud, for four decades. Rangers were pleased when it reappeared, following years of conservation work.Our work at Minchinhampton and Rodborough Commons
Duke of Burgundy, Buckinghamshire
Following a reintroduction project and decades of conservation work, rangers are seeing one of our most threatened butterflies bounce back at Bradenham in Buckinghamshire.Our work in the Chilterns countryside
Large blue, Somerset
One of our rarest butterflies, the large blue, is thriving at Collard Hill in Somerset. This is all thanks to an innovative grazing regime backed by farmers and conservationists. 20 native-breed Dexter cattle provide the right conditions for wild thyme, the main food of the caterpillars. Their grazing also helps a species of red ant thrive, so through the winter the large blue caterpillars can feed on their grubs.Our work at Fyne Court
Ranger in National Trust fleece inspecting white blossom on tree in orchard

For everyone, for ever

We protect and care for places so people and nature can thrive. Find out who we are and what we stand for.

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