Here at Butterfly Conservation, we’re very proud of the impact our volunteers have, but recently the Chair of our Warwickshire Branch shared some statistics with us that took it to the next level….

In 2009, Butterfly Conservation began a project to help save the Small Blue in one of our priority landscapes; the Southam Lias Grasslands. The Small Blue had undergone an 87% decline in Warwickshire, becoming extinct in Shropshire, Herefordshire, Staffordshire and Worcestershire. By 2009, only three colonies remained, all on the Southam Lias Grasslands of Warwickshire, and all three of these sites were under threat of development.  The butterfly could have been lost from the region altogether.

The Warwickshire Branch, generously supported by various funders, launched a project to improve the fate of the Small Blue. It focused on improving existing and nearby potential sites, using the Lawton principles of “bigger, better, more joined up”. Through the project, 35ha of scrub was removed from 22 sites, butterfly banks and scrapes were created at 16, and 25 sites were planted with over 13,000 plug plants of Kidney Vetch, the foodplant of the Small Blue caterpillar.

The project was a success, resulting in a tripling of the number of sites suitable for Small Blue and leading to five new sites being colonised by the butterfly. The results at Southam Quarry were so impressive that it has formed the template for other projects, including that of one of the funders and landowners, CEMEX, who will be using it to restore landfill sites.

The project was run by Mike Slater, Chair of the local Warwickshire Branch. He knew the sites and was able to quickly make an impact, but the real success has been in the work which has since been carried out, all thanks to the efforts of local volunteers. When the project ended, Mike continued to lead work parties on the project sites, giving his time for free and involving local volunteers in the process. He found new people to help and planned a programme of work to keep them engaged throughout the year, which built a fantastic team of volunteers.

The local volunteer-led Branch also supported the ongoing work by providing around £4k funding each year for fuel, seeds and other supplies, which meant the volunteers were able to continue to work at the sites and improve habitat further for the Small Blue.

So where are we now compared to 2009? The Small Blue has been recorded at 27 sites in Warwickshire, of which 24 have been colonised. 23 of these sites are in the Southam Lias Grasslands. This is an incredible 667% increase within the priority landscape area, making the future look much brighter for this beautiful butterfly. The work has also helped other priority species, notably the Dingy and Grizzled Skippers, White-letter Hairstreak and Chalk Carpet. And there has been a positive knock-on effect for other local priority species, including the Dark Green Fritillary and Green Hairstreak.

This is a fantastic demonstration of how our volunteers help us significantly increase our impact and can also ensure the legacy of our funded projects. With some initial financial support, over ten years of voluntary effort, and ongoing maintenance costs covered by Butterfly Conservation through our Warwickshire Branch, we have been able to achieve a huge amount for the Small Blue.

Many thanks to all the wonderful volunteers who have contributed to saving the Small Blue in this priority landscape, to our members whose contributions have supported them for so long, and to Mike Slater, Chair of the Warwickshire Branch, for continuing to lead the work to such good effect, long after the funded project had ended!

If you’re interested in volunteering for Butterfly Conservation, check our volunteer pages for opportunities near you!

Kate Barrett
Head of Volunteering, Butterfly Conservation