One of the biggest causes of decline amongst woodland butterflies has been the cessation of active broad-leaved woodland management, especially the decline of coppicing.
Butterflies such as the Pearl-bordered Fritillary and Duke of Burgundy have gone from being widespread species in wooded landscapes to survive only in a few isolated colonies.
South East England is one of the UK’s most heavily wooded regions. Species here suffered badly as woodlands became overgrown, dark and uninhabitable.
The Pearl-bordered Fritillary and Duke of Burgundy both require open habitats in woodland, where their larval foodplants (Common Dog-violet Viola riviniana and Primrose Primula vulgaris or Cowslip Primula veris, respectively) grow in sunny, sheltered conditions.
To reinvigorate woodland management and halt the declines of some of our rarest woodland species. Between 2007 and 2011, the project focused on three landscape-scale demonstration areas: Denge Woods in Kent, Rother Woods in East Sussex and Tytherley Woods on the Hampshire/Wiltshire border,
- Clearing derelict coppice, widening rides and clear-felling non-native conifer plantations to promote natural regeneration of broadleaved woodland.
- Cutting and grazing permanent clearings, managing scrub on open areas and promoting deer management to graze vegetation.
- Promoting woodland management through training, information, support and advice to landowners, conservation volunteers and local communities.
- Engaging communities to celebrate and conserve their woodland heritage and the threatened butterflies and moths it supports.
- Building, training and supporting a network of skilled volunteers to monitor wildlife, proving information to landowners and focussing local conservation action.
For more detailed information about this project and others across the UK please read the full report: Landscape-scale Conservation For Butterflies And Moths: Lessons From The UK.
More than 5,000 people attended an event organised in the South East Woodlands. Volunteers subsequently contributed more than 1080 days involvement in project activities, equivalent to £87,000 in labour costs, allowing Butterfly Conservation to achieve far more than we could through staff activity alone.
In the Tytherley Woods landscape, 16 habitat patches were created for Pearl-bordered Fritillary. All of these patches produced suitable breeding habitat within three years, and 50 per cent of them were colonised by the butterfly over the same period.
In 2007, the Duke of Burgundy was in a perilous state in Kent, with a peak count of just 11 butterflies on two sites in the Denge Woods landscape. By 2010 the population had increased to a combined peak count of 173 butterflies across 10 sites.
In the Rother Woods landscape, thorough searches confirmed that the Pearl-bordered Fritillary was extinct. After careful assessments of habitat suitability and management, Pearl-bordered Fritillaries were released here in 2010 and their offspring emerged on the site in spring 2011.
The habitat creation in Tytherly Woods has not just been of benefit to the Pearl-bordered Fritillary. Since the conservation work took place, several other UK BAP Priority species have been recorded on these patches included Duke of Burgundy, Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary, Dingy Skipper, Argent & Sable and Drab Looper.