Reserve lifeline for England's Pearl

A nature reserve that could play a key role in securing the long-term future of one of England's most threatened butterflies is now open.

Butterfly Conservation's new Rowland Wood Reservein East Sussex will help to support the last remaining population of the Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary in the South East.

The butterfly, which has distinctive rows of pearl-like silver spots on the underside of its wings, has suffered from a catastrophic population decline over the last 40 years.

It is extinct in Kent and has probably been lost from Surrey.

But the Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary, which boasts dappled orange and black upper wing markings, has a new home in Rowland Wood after clinging on in the charity's smaller Park Corner Heath reserve next door.

The 77-acre site has been set up to help safeguard this threatened butterfly's future in a region where it remains extremely vulnerable.

Butterfly Conservation Vice President and BBC, The One Show wildlife reporter, Mike Dilger said: "The Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary is one of our most stunning and threatened butterfly species.

"The opening of Rowland Wood Reserve offers them a great chance of surviving in the South East and will give the public the opportunity of watching these tantalising butterflies at first hand."

The Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary was once widespread throughout much of the UK, but a reduction of traditional woodland management practices such as tree coppicing, is believed to be behind the insect's decline in its southern range.

The Rowland Wood site is part of the large Vert Wood complex - a location much-loved by Victorian butterfly collectors.

The area is still famed for its butterflies with regular sightings of the White Admiral, Grizzled Skipper and the Silver-washed Fritillary. It is also a haven for nightingales, nightjars, dragonflies, damselflies and dormice.

Michael Blencowe who organises Butterfly Conservation's volunteer workers on the reserve said: "As soon as we purchased the site members from our Sussex branch were in the wood opening it up to allow in more light.

"Our volunteers created a number of sunny corridors and within months the butterflies responded and Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries moved straight into these newly created habitats."