Biggest butterfly project yet to halt decades of decline

Britain's woodlands, some dating back centuries, were once home to a profusion of butterflies. Now many forest areas have become neglected and woodland butterfly numbers have tumbled.

The Pearl-bordered Fritillary is down by two-thirds over the past 30 years while the Duke of Burgundy is down by a half.

Today, coinciding with the launch of Save Our Butterflies Week 2007, sees the announcement of Britain's biggest-ever butterfly conservation project, aimed at reversing these declines.

The South East Woodlands Project is being made possible by a £289,000 Heritage Lottery Fund grant and £200,000 from the Tubney Charitable Trust. Total expenditure from all sources on the three-year scheme, to be run by the charity Butterfly Conservation, will be close to £900,000.

Three woodland landscapes will be used to demonstrate how correct woodland management can reverse wildlife declines. They are at Rother Woods near Rye in East Sussex, at Denge Woods near Canterbury in Kent, and at Tytherley Woods on the Hampshire/Wiltshire border.

Project Manager Dr Dan Hoare said: "We want to show woodland owners what can be achieved and how they can help butterflies and other wildlife on their land. We'll be involving the public in a big way so that they will be able to press for good woodland management.

"They'll be able to go on guided walks, and attend events and training workshops. We are really grateful to Heritage Lottery Fund, the Tubney Charitable Trust and all our other funders who are making this possible."

Rod Leslie, Head of Programmes at Forestry Commission England said: "The decline in rare woodland butterflies like the Pearl-bordered Fritillary has been one of the greatest biodiversity losses over the past 30 years and reversing the decline is a key objective. This project is an injection of hope for these beautiful and popular animals."

Sheena Vick, Heritage Lottery Fund Manager for the South East, said: "This is a heavily populated region yet we have some real gems of the natural world. Initiatives like this are vital in ensuring future generations enjoy the wildlife that we do today."

In Scotland Save our Butterflies Week sees Butterfly Conservation jointly with the Forestry Commission opening a new reserve in woodlands near Dumfries. The 100-hectares in the heart of Mabie Forest, has been described as "the best butterfly site in Scotland". The forest already attracts 100,000 visitors a year and combines spruce and ancient oak woodland. It too is a refuge for the rare Pearl-bordered Fritillary.

Butterfly Conservation's 32 branches are organizing events across the country during Save Our Butterflies Week including numerous walks to acquaint people with the butterflies of their area.

Six celebrities are each sponsoring one of the more common and popular UK butterflies as part of a bid to discover the Nation's Favourite Butterfly.

Members of public will be able to cast their vote at www.butterfly-conservation.org Springwatch's Kate Humble puts the case for the Peacock, gardening guru Alan Titchmarsh waxes lyrical about Red Admiral, actress Thelma Barlow backs the Painted Lady, TV presenter Chris Packham supports the Brimstone, naturalist Nick Baker declares himself a Comma man and Coast's Miranda Krestovnikoff waves the flag for the Holly Blue.