The Big Butterfly Count

Here is something Durham Wildlife Trust has been doing for a while…

 The Small Pearl Bordered Fritillary Project (SPBF)

A successful re-wilding Project using a landscape scale approach

On a bright warm sunny day the vivid orange of the small pearl -bordered fritillary butterfly on the wing is a sight to behold, bringing enthusiasts from all over the country to get a glimpse of this small charismatic butterfly. Called the small pearl because of the series of pearl drops seen along the edge of the hind wing when the butterfly is at rest, it is a now success story in County Durham but in 2000 things were very different.

All butterflies are in decline due to changing climatic conditions and land use.

In terms of the SPBF it has been calculated that between 1977-2004 one third of the English SPBF colonise had become extinct and in County Durham by 2000 there were only 3 known sites left.

Nationally the decline of this small fritillary continued and in 2010 the SPBF made the Butterfly Conservation Red List for conservation priority.

In the same year Durham Wildlife Trust’s Heart of Durham Project was formed as a partnership organisation with Northumbrian Water to help reverse the decline of this butterfly.

Now eight years on, the small pearl is spreading across various sites in County Durham and a successful captive breeding programme provided the opportunity to introduce caterpillars to a site where historically they had been found but were now no longer present.

The good news is Numbers across all sites are increasing and originally colonise are robust.

All this has been achieved through successful partnership working between the Heart of Durham Project, landowners and project partners to restore and link habitats and sites to develop wildlife corridors. These ecological routes through the countryside are important for many species of animals, reptiles and invertebrates, but especially those species that have low dispersal ability such as the SPBF

Thousands of marsh violets and nectar plants have been planted and conservation management, by teams of volunteers, have restored habitat where the butterfly can thrive.

There have been highs and lows over these 8 years, sphagnum moss was stolen from an important site for the SPBF, at a time when the caterpillars would have been nestled amongst it. One re-introduction site failed but the repeated spread of the butterfly on the first re-introduction site and the returning increasing counts from all sites, by volunteer transect walkers who regularly count all butterflies as well as the SPBF, has made all the hard work worth it.

Photo credit goes to Stuart Priestley.