Major project to save Britain's rarest butterflies

A project to save one of Britain's rarest butterflies from possible extinction has been officially launched.

The Morecambe Bay Limestones, an area on the Lancashire and Cumbria border, is the last remaining stronghold of the High Brown Fritillary.

Butterfly numbers are down by 80 per cent compared with the early 1980s and its rate of decline appears to be accelerating. It has suffered the biggest drop in numbers of all UK butterflies over recent years.

The Morecambe Bay Limestones area includes limestone pavements, scrub, coppice woodland and herb-rich grasslands.

The emphasis will be on opening up larger tracts of the area to make them sunnier and more welcoming for butterflies.

The area is rich in other butterflies including the endangered Duke of Burgundy. These too will benefit from the project.

Work has already started at 13 locations. Contractors have widened hundreds of metres of tracks, cut back dense vegetation and cleared stunted trees and bramble.

Butterfly Conservation will be investing £430,000 in the project, with nearly £250,000 of this coming from Landfill Tax via GrantScape. Butterfly Conservation is working closely with the Forestry Commission, which has allocated an additional £80,000 in woodland grant packages.

Volunteers are also playing a major role, including members of the Lancashire and Cumbria branches of Butterfly Conservation.

Wildlife Trust members, local colleges, Arnside and Silverdale AONB and Age Concern have also contributed significant volunteer input.

David Wainwright, Morecambe Bay Limestones Project Officer, said: "Without all this effort there is a great danger of losing the High Brown Fritillary. However, the project is going well and I'm sure we'll turn things round. We are expecting to see a large increase in numbers next year."