One of the UK’s rarest butterflies is being encouraged to move to a new site next to a Buckinghamshire railway line to ensure its survival.

Volunteers from the Upper Thames Branch of wildlife charity Butterfly Conservation (BC) are working with Network Rail to create new habitat for the Duke of Burgundy colony on a patch of land adjacent to the London to Birmingham line.

Duke of Burgundy by David DennisThe colony – one of just three found in the county - currently sits on private land near Princes Risborough, just north of High Wycombe, but the site has recently gone up for sale.

BC hopes that creating new habitat nearby will encourage the butterflies to expand their range, so whatever happens to their current site, they face a more secure future.

Network Rail has supplied 24 volunteers from its own workforce to assist BC.

London to Birmingham LineUpper Thames Branch Chairman, Nick Bowles said: “The status of this butterfly has been improving in other parts of the UK, but it has been completely lost from Oxfordshire and is in danger of disappearing from Buckinghamshire too.

“We are thrilled that Network Rail not only allowed us to work on this site, a former breeding ground for the butterfly, but also that so many of their staff volunteered to help. This is all part of our efforts to strengthen the Dukes population and increase the number of colonies in Buckinghamshire.”

A recent report released by BC and the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) found that on a national level, the Duke of Burgundy has recovered from catastrophic declines over the last ten years.

This turn around in fortune can be linked directly to targeted conservation work, so BC is hopeful this current project will help the Duke to recover in Buckinghamshire, where it is still struggling.

Lucie Anderton, Environment Manager for Network Rail said: “It’s great to help support Butterfly Conservation. The habitat site is by the railway line which we will be upgrading as part of East West Rail and confirms our commitment to engage with local conservation groups to help preserve and protect the environment.”

Duke of Burgundy by Peter EelesThe Duke of Burgundy is one of the UK’s most charismatic butterflies and can be seen on the wing between May and June.

Although the butterfly measures less than three centimetres across, it is fiercely territorial, attacking any flying insect that crosses its path.

The Duke’s upper wings are orange and brown, overlaid with a network of dark bars and stripes, while its underwing is a mix of burnt-orange and pale ochre with distinctive flashes of white.

Wildlife lovers are invited to help BC’s Upper Thames Branch with upcoming conservation events.