Ambitious new plan to save UK's rarest butterfly from extinction

Conservationaists plan habitat restoration on Exmoor to rescue the high brown fritillary.

By Jonathan Manning
photographs by Matthew Oates, National Trust Images
Published 18 Feb 2018, 09:49 GMT

Last gasp efforts have started to save the UK’s most endangered butterfly, the high brown fritillary, from extinction.

Numbers of this beautiful butterfly have been in sharp decline due to habitat loss, through changes in woodland management and the abandonment of marginal hill land. In addition, a combination of climate change and nitrogen deposits have been tapping the final nails into the coffin of the high brown fritillary, whose numbers have declined by 66% since the 1970s.

A pair of male high brown fritillary butterflies at Heddon Valley, Exmoor.
Photograph by Matthew Oates, National Trust Images

The £100,000 rescue plan, led by the National Trust, will see 60 hectares of lowland heath and wood pasture – the butterfly’s principle habitat – restored along the Exmoor and North Devon coast.

Restoring the natural landscape should also benefit other endangered wildlife, such as the heath fritillary butterfly, and birds including the nightjar and Dartford warbler.

Matthew Oates, National Trust nature expert and butterfly enthusiast.
Photograph by Oskar Proctor, National Trust Images

Matthew Oates, National Trust nature expert and butterfly enthusiast, said, “We’ve witnessed a catastrophic decline of many native butterfly populations in recent decades but initiatives like this can really help to turn the tide. Combined with increased recording and monitoring efforts, there is significant hope for some of our most threatened winged insects.”

The work, funded by  grant from the People’s Postcode Lottery, will focus on the Heddon Valley in Exmoor, which supports the strongest population of high brown fritillary in England.

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