Children in the Highlands are helping to create a living apartment complex for Britain's smallest butterfly.

Pupils at Ardersier Primary School are supporting conservation efforts to save the threatened Small Blue by growing Kidney Vetch - the only plant its caterpillars eat.

The seedlings will be planted into new habitat banks to connect isolated populations of Small Blue at Ardersier and Fort George.

Children at Ardersier Primary School learning about Small Blue butterflies
Children at Ardersier Primary School learning about butterflies to help with the project. Picture: Ardersier Primary School

The project is being managed by leading charity Butterfly Conservation as part of a Scotland-wide campaign to rescue the beleaguered butterfly from the brink of extinction north of the border.

May 25 - June 1 is Small Blue Week and, as well as putting on a series of public events, the charity has appealed for people across Scotland to help save the iconic species.

Butterfly Conservation project officer Tracy Munro said: "For me you have to care - if you let it go from one area, the next thing you know an iconic species like this is gone.

"One of the biggest pleasures of my job is introducing people to this tiny little species then seeing the delight they take in taking care of it. It's getting people involved looking after the environment around them. We need to bring the public with us."

Small Blue (underwing) - Tamás Nestor
A Small Blue butterfly. Picture: Tamas Nestor

With a wingspan up to 30mm, the Small Blue is the UK's smallest resident butterfly. The caterpillars only eat the flower head of Kidney Vetch, a small, low-growing plant that is easily out-competed by bigger species such as gorse. Adults are on the wing in May and June, but can be extremely hard to spot.

Since the 1970s, the Small Blue's distribution across the UK has plummeted by more than 40%, though it is still relatively common in the south of England. In Scotland the species has suffered decline in part due to habitat loss to human development and wider land use change.

Effects of climate change such as heat, drought and increased flooding are also punishing the Kidney Vetch that Small Blues depend on.

Small Blue - Distribution
Small Blue butterfly distribution in the UK

Last year, however, Butterfly Conservation won funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund-backed Species on the Edge programme to help butterflies and moths across Scotland including the Small Blue.

Working across Scotland, Tracy and her colleague Liz Peel, Project Officer for Argyll and the Inner Hebrides, are building on decades of work by Butterfly Conservation volunteers to create bigger, better and more connected areas of habitat for moths and butterflies.

In the past year they have worked with several local partners, including High Life Highland Countryside Rangers, and have enhanced more than a hectare of Small Blue habitat at eight sites along the east coast by removing scrub plants to make more room for Kidney Vetch. They have recruited significant numbers of new volunteers and are working with 18 new landowners, including the Ministry of Defence, to increase the range of suitable habitat even further.

Small Blue butterfly by Andrew Cooper
Small Blue on Kidney Vetch. Picture: Andrew Cooper

Now Tracy is focusing her efforts on a specific gap in the Small Blue’s distribution between Fort George and Ardersier.

At a Scottish Water-owned site in that space, with the help of Ardersier primary pupils, Tracy will lead the creation of the 'apartment complex' of new habitat banks.

Habitat banks like these are created by scraping away the top soil and all the fast-growing plants in it, then building crescent-shaped mounds out of rubble and soil which won't get blown away. The banks, each one eight to 12 metres long, are finished with sand into which Kidney Vetch is planted along with a few other native coastal plants that can support butterflies, moths and other invertebrates.

Small Blue egglaying on Kidney Vetch
Small Blue laying eggs on Kidney Vetch. Picture: Keith Warmington

Scottish Water is donating the use of its land; Haventus Limited - owner of Ardersier Port - is donating the sand and Ardersier Community Hub is donating plant seeds.

Tracy is aiming to hire a local contractor in September to dig out the banks and do the initial shaping, but for the final stretch of fine shaping and planting she will need all the help she can get from the local community.

She is also appealing for volunteers to help support the primary school in growing Kidney Vetch plants and to help with surveying butterflies across the area to assess what impact the work is having.

Pupils at Ardersier Primary School growing kidney vetch plants to help the Small Blue in the local area
Pupils at Ardersier Primary School growing kidney vetch plants to help the Small Blue. Picture: Ardersier Primary School

Tracy said: "If we want to save the Small Blue for Scotland then we absolutely can't do it without help from people who live here, and we're really hoping this project will inspire more people to get involved. We can give you advice and training to do really valuable work, and the more people get involved the bigger a difference we can make.

"I didn't used to be a huge fan of the Small Blue, but on one of the first days I worked on this project one was blown onto my finger and it was so incredibly tiny, just the width of my finger tip, and it was so beautiful - a really dusky, rich colour, and it just grew on me. The more time I spent with them the more I fell in love with them, and I know that other people will as well!"

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Find out more about this year’s Small Blue Week events at