Saving Devon's precious Pearls

One of the UK's most threatened butterflies is being given a helping hand to expand its range through targeted conservation in Devon.

Work is underway at three Forestry Commission sites in the Haldon Forest, Kennford, to improve habitat for the Pearl-bordered Fritillary.

The butterfly has been declining dramatically across Britain - two thirds of colonies have become extinct over the last 25 years.

But their fortunes have been given a boost through a Butterfly Conservation-led project, in partnership with the Forestry Commission, to expand the area of suitable habitat.

Pearl-bordered Fritillaries, with their striking orange and black chequered markings and kaleidoscopic underwings have fallen dramatically due to a decline in traditional woodland management.

The butterfly can be found along woodland rides and clearings, feeding on spring flowering plants like bugle, and lays its eggs near wild violets - the caterpillar's foodplant.

The project aims to expand the areas already occupied by the Pearl-bordered Fritillary and link sites where it is already thriving to other sites of suitable habitat - helping the species spread more effectively.

Around 1.5 hectares of scrub control is being carried out across three sites, along with coppicing and conifer clear-felling.

This 'linking' work is also underway at the nearby site of North Wood, where half a hectare of conifer has been clear-felled providing a direct link to connect two excellent areas of breeding habitat.

Further scrub control has taken place at North Wood by the Forestry Commission, who are supporting efforts to improve habitat by undertaking bracken management in key areas.

Ben Phillips, Area Forester for the Forestry Commission, said "Modern forest management is about a lot more than just producing timber.

"These are working forests, producing around 10,000 tonnes of timber every year, but it is also managed to provide excellent recreation opportunities to the public and sympathetically to look after the many different species that live within it.

"We have a long standing relationship with Butterfly Conservation, and we are so pleased to have been able to work with them on this important project to improve habitats for the Pearl-bordered Fritillary."

Volunteers have been involved in habitat assessments, butterfly monitoring and practical management at the three sites.

Last summer volunteers collected wild violet seeds which have been sent to a violet specialist nursery for propagation.

Young plug plants will be planted in the spring at Great Plantation and North Wood to provide an immediate food source in the newly managed areas.

Butterfly Conservation's Project Officer, Jenny Plackett, said: "It's fantastic to see the management work getting underway, and we are hopeful that the habitat improvements will soon show a positive impact on butterfly numbers - the Pearl-bordered Fritillary tends to respond very quickly to management."

Funding was granted by the SITA Trust last April, which will support management over three years until 2014.