Marsh Fritillary - Mark Searle

One of the UK’s rarest butterflies is set to benefit from a new project on the Devon and Somerset border that will see farmers working together to help local wildlife, Butterfly Conservation (BC) can reveal.

The nationally scarce Marsh Fritillary is declining across Europe - but can be seen in small numbers across the two counties, including the Blackdown Hills.

Landowners and farmers working in the area are invited to join Neil Parish, Conservative MP for Tiverton and Honiton, for the official launch of the ‘Blackdown Hills Farming and Woodland Group’ on Friday 20 July.

The group is free for local landowners to join and members are encouraged to work more closely with their neighbours to share skills and land management techniques.

They are also receiving training on how best to help local wildlife like the Marsh Fritillary.

The three-year project is run by wildlife charity Butterfly Conservation (BC) and the Blackdown Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), with financial support from the EU and thanks to funding from Natural England.

BC’s project facilitator, Gavin Saunders, said: “There is a lot of great work taking place within the farming community to help wildlife that often goes unnoticed.

“This project is about shining a light on those good practices, sharing experiences and providing support and training for landowners in ways that will benefit them and the environment.”

Marsh Fritillary - Iain H Leach

Tim Youngs, Manager at the Blackdown Hills AONB, said: “We are delighted to be a part of this project, helping to support the Blackdown Hills Farming & Woodland Group who will collaborate to secure a viable future for the rich heritage features across their collective land holdings farms in this nationally protected landscape and at the same time build more economically resilient farm businesses, at this time of unprecedented change.”

The launch event is taking place at Smeatharpe Village Hall from 2.30pm until 5.30pm and those attending will have the chance to find out more and take a guided walk on a nearby Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

Neil Parish, MP for Tiverton and Honiton, said: “It is fantastic to be officially launching this project, which is all about supporting the local farming community and protecting this unique landscape.

“It is also very important to me in my role as a Species Champion for the Marsh Fritillary, which requires me to promote good land management for this butterfly - something I am hopeful this new project will do.”