Collector convicted for illegally catching and killing the UK's rarest butterfly

Phillip Cullen

Butterfly Conservation has today welcomed the prosecution of a collector found guilty of illegally catching and killing the UK’s rarest butterfly.

Phillip Cullen, 57, from Cadbury Heath, Bristol, was convicted at Bristol Magistrates Court of deliberately capturing and killing Large Blue butterflies on two occasions at nature reserves in Somerset and Gloucestershire in 2015.

The globally endangered Large Blue is fully protected under UK law and alongside the High Brown Fritillary is listed as the UK’s most threatened butterfly.

The Large Blue became extinct in 1979, but it has been reintroduced as part of a long-term and highly successful conservation project.

The court heard that Cullen was spotted climbing over a locked fence to gain access to Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust's Daneway Banks nature reserve, near Sapperton, Gloucestershire on 18 June.

He was spotted attempting to catch a Large Blue in a net by Butterfly Conservation member Neil Hulme, who was visiting the site. 

When confronted, Cullen claimed he was attempting to catch parasitic wasps rather than the Large Blue.

Large Blue Butterfly by Martin WarrenThe next day Cullen was seen acting suspiciously at Large Blue hotspot, the National Trust’s Collard Hill reserve near Street, Somerset and it was here that Kevin Withey, prosecuting, told the court that Cullen again captured and killed a Large Blue. 

When officers from the National Wildlife Crime Unit subsequently searched Cullen’s house in February 2016 they found an illegal collection of some of the UK’s rarest butterflies, including dead specimens of the Large Blue, Heath Fritillary, High Brown Fritillary and Swallowtail.

Cullen was found guilty of three counts under the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations (CHSR) 2010 for the illegal capture, killing and possession of the Large Blue at Daneway Banks and three counts of the same offences at Collard Hill.

He had previously pleaded guilty to a count, contrary to the CHSR, of possessing dead specimens of the Large Blue, Large Copper, Southern Festoon and Clouded Apollo.

Cullen had also pleaded guilty, contrary to the Wildlife and Countryside Act of possessing dead specimens of Black Veined Moth, Fiery Clearwing moth, Marsh Fritillary, Heath Fritillary, High Brown Fritillary and Swallowtail.

Dr Nigel Bourn, Director of Conservation Science and Policy at Butterfly Conservation said: “We welcome this prosecution and commend the hard work of the National Wildlife Crime Unit in bringing together evidence for this important test case.   

“The Large Blue is a globally endangered species and a long-term effort has been made since 1983 to re-establish the butterfly in the UK.

“Collecting this and other protected butterflies is not just a crime, it undermines the hard work of hundreds of volunteers, conservationists, scientists and funders who have worked tirelessly in recent decades to restore this beautiful butterfly to the British countryside.”

The case was adjourned for sentencing to 7 April at Bristol Magistrates Court. Chair of the Magistrates Colin Howells said he was considering a custodial sentence. 

Of the 59 species of butterfly found in the UK 25 are afforded some kind protection and six including the Large Blue are fully protected, meaning they cannot be collected, killed or sold.