Thanks to the Dukes on the Edge Project the Duke of Burgundy is recovering strongly across the South East, and has recolonised many former sites.
In 2011, things looked bleak for the Duke of Burgundy. It had suffered a 46% population decline between 1995-99 and 2004-09, making it one of the UK’s fastest declining butterflies.
Duke of Burgundy had disappeared entirely from some areas in South East England, including Surrey and the Isle of Wight. Populations in Kent, West Sussex and the Chilterns were also declining, and colonies were even being lost even in its apparent stronghold of Hampshire, so it is no exaggeration to say that the Duke of Burgundy was facing extinction across much of its former range.
The Duke of Burgundy is a species of edges, living on the scrubby fringes of grasslands and in the open rides and glades of woodlands where primulas (the larval foodplant) grow in long grass sheltered by scrub. It is at risk both from neglect, if sites become entirely overgrown, and from over-management if sites are uniformly grazed or too much scrub is removed in one go.
The project aimed to improve population numbers of Duke of Burgundy in the South East by maintaining, enhancing and creating new Duke of Burgundy habitat in networks in which each patch is separated by only a couple of kilometres. This will allowing the butterfly to move between them as they become suitable.
- Assess the extent of suitable habitat and habitat condition.
- Undertake practical habitat management (e.g. coppicing, ride widening and scrub control) by contractors and volunteer work parties, to maintain and enhance existing habitats and create new habitat.
- Monitor the impacts of management on both habitat condition and butterfly populations.
- Conduct public events to raise awareness of the conservation importance of the South Downs and the Duke of Burgundy, and organise training events for volunteers to enable them to participate in conservation tasks, surveying and monitoring.
- 40 events were held involving nearly 1000 people in Duke of Burgundy conservation, ranging from guided walks, volunteer training, landowner workshops as well as volunteer work parties and monitoring.
- Management advice was provided on 147 sites in the region including; 75 occupied colonies, 43 extinct sites and 29 unoccupied sites holding potential habitat. At 82 of these sites, management for the Duke of Burgundy (grazing, scrub removal and woodland management) is known to have improved already and action is planned on a further 11 sites in winter 2014.
- A grant from SITA Trust was used to restore 23 hectares of Duke habitat across ten sites on the South Downs, doubling the area of suitable habitat. By 2014, 16 of 17 habitat patches (94%) were suitable for the Duke of Burgundy and ten of these (59% had been colonised) increasing the area of occupied habitat by 50%.
- At least another five sites have been colonised by the Duke of Burgundy in the South Downs since 2011 and the butterfly is now doing well on sites across Hampshire and Sussex.
- In Kent, where the Duke was known from just two sites in 2003, it now regularly occupies a network of 12 sites.
- Volunteers are helping to monitor the results for Duke of Burgundy and other species including Dingy and Grizzled Skippers, Green Hairstreak and Dark Green Fritillary.
The Duke of Burgundy is coming back from the brink in South East England, as a project focusing on this enigmatic little butterfly draws to a close. Our Dukes On The Edge project, launched in 2011 aimed to halt the shocking decline of the Duke of Burgundy in the region, which holds half of all remaining UK colonies. There are promising signs that the species can respond well to the right management and is bouncing back, athough funding comes to an end this autumn, there remains much to do. Many small and isolated sites remain vulnerable and regular management is necessary on most sites.
Conservation at this scale requires also requires collaboration with project partners, who have included the Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, the National Trust, the Forestry Commission and Natural England. Collaboration with the South Downs National Park Authority on the South Downs Way Ahead NIA project, funded by Natural England, has transformed many sites that had been lost beneath scrub.
The Heritage Lottery Fund, SITA Trust, Natural England, Ernest Kleinwort, The Slater Foundation, Cecil Pilkington, Ratcliff Foundation, The Patsy Wood Trust, Butterfly Conservation Branches (Hampshire and isle of Wight Branch, Kent Branch, Sussex Branch and Upper Thames Branch) and Butterfly Conservation Members and Donors.