Butterfly makes gains across the moors

The rare Marsh Fritillary has had a fantastic year across Dartmoor and Exmoor, with numbers doubling at many sites across the moors. The butterfly has not only increased in abundance, but has spread its wings and colonised new areas where they were previously unrecorded.

The Marsh Fritillary is a striking orange and brown butterfly which has suffered a devastating 73% decline nationally over the past 30 years.

The remarkable change of fortune for this species is due to the conservation measures put in place by the Two Moors Threatened Butterfly Project, the farmers it has worked with, and the dry and sunny weather we enjoyed during the butterfly's flight period in late May and June, which provided optimal conditions for the butterfly to breed.

Butterfly Conservation, in partnership with Dartmoor and Exmoor National Park Authorities, Natural England and the Environment Agency, set up the Two Moors Threatened Butterfly Project five years ago to try to reverse these declines.

The project works with farmers and landowners across Dartmoor and Exmoor to give advice and encourage appropriate management of sites with fritillary butterfly interest. Since the project's inception, more than 140 sites have been visited, advice has been given on over 1500ha of land, and management delivered on more than 900ha of habitat.

Project Officer, Jenny Plackett, said: 'I'm delighted that the butterfly seems to be making such a fantastic recovery on the South West's moors, and it's especially good news that the area of occupied habitat is increasing, as this will help to create more stable conditions for the species in the long term. Hopefully these gains will continue as more land comes under appropriate management.'

Senior Ecologist for Dartmoor National Park Authority, Norman Baldock, added: 'It's great to see that the years of work spent encouraging local farmers to get these habitats in better condition is now showing impressive results.

"There have been benefits not only to the target butterfly species, but additionally to a wide range of other rare flora and fauna, the moorland fringe landscape itself and to the use of Dartmoor ponies for conservation grazing,"

The Two Moors project targets three different species of fritillary butterfly. The High Brown Fritillary did not fare as well as the Marsh Fritillary this year, but it still made some gains, with the re-colonisation of a site in the Dart Valley, and a new colony discovered in Exmoor's Heddon Valley. Good numbers of the Heath Fritillary were recorded, with one re-colonisation, discovery of a new colony, and an increase in the flight area at several sites.