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© Colin Barr

Wings in the Woods

Enhancing habitat connectivity by creating stepping stones and corridors to enable rare butterflies and moths to move between colonies.

The Rusland Valley is home to some of the UK’s rarest and most endangered butterflies and moths. To ensure these populations are protected, more information was needed as to the distribution and habitats of these species. The findings can now inform suitable habitat restoration that will also help the conservation of other declining woodland wildlife.

Working with Butterfly Conservation, we focused on monitoring and increasing the understanding of several endangered butterfly and moth species within the scheme area. The project also supported the enhancement of suitable butterfly and moth habitats on a landscape scale, creating stepping stone habitat to connect populations, especially in projects that focussed on woodland management.

Habitat restoration for woodland butterfly specialists also benefitted many other wildlife groups, including declining woodland bird species. By increasing the ecological niches available, through improving woodland diversity, we created new breeding and feeding areas and diversified the ground plants and shrub layers available.

Achievements:

  • Identified and assessed suitable areas for nationally rare species.
  • Worked with landowners and land-managers to practice good land management and improve habitats that are beneficial for butterflies and wildlife.
  • Two new populations of Argent & Sable discovered which now accounts for 40% of colony populations throughout the whole of Cumbria.
  • Many previously unknown sites found for the Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary.  The Rusland Valley now supports more colonies than any other English County.
  • The nationally rare Netted Carpet Moth has been monitored for the last 3 years at sites within the Rusland Valley.
  • Surveys carried out that provided vital information to assist with species conservation.
  • A significant number of dedicated and experienced volunteers trained in surveying, practical habitat management and species identification.
Images:
An introcution to moths at Leven Valley School

So far so good...

  • 186 ha of habitat has been improved.
  • 6 BAP (Biodiversity Action Plan) species monitored.
  • 143 volunteers engaged and supporting.
  • 10 successful training events held.
  • 4 public engagement days run.
  • 770 plug plants planted.
  • 47 baseline and repeat surveys completed.
  • 8 new important sites identified containing endangered species.
  • 10 new sites identified for Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary.
  • 2 sites digitally mapped (GIS) and 2 distribution maps created.
  • Over 200 records collected for butterflies and moths.
  • 5 landowners engaged.

Did you know?

The Netted Carpet Moth is one of Britain's most endangered moths. It was heavily collected by the Victorians and thought to be extinct early in the 1900s. It was rediscovered in 1945 and the Rusland Horizons scheme area is one of only two regions where it is found. The caterpillars (larvae) of the Netted Carpet Moth imitate the seed pods of their food plant the Touch-me-not Balsam, as they grow, to avoid being eaten.

The adult Duke of Burgundy butterflies only live for 5 - 7 days in May, during which time they have to find a mate, and the females have to lay eggs on their foodplant, the primrose.

The Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary female will often scatter her eggs during flight over a suitable moist area with violets, rather than placing them on the caterpillar food plant.

The Large Heath butterfly lives in raised bogs and peat mosses in the Rusland Valley where its foodplants of Hare's Tail Cottongrass can be found. They are a favourite food of the Meadow Pipit!

Project Lead

The Challenge

In 2011, a study compiled by Butterfly Conservation and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology found that 72% of UK Butterfly species had declined in abundance and that the distribution of 54% had been reduced over the past decade. The 'State of Britain’s Butterflies’ report identifies the loss of suitable habitats as the main reason for the declines. Woodlands provide breeding habitats for two-thirds of the UK’s butterfly species, but traditional management has ceased in most woodlands and, as a result, our woods are darker, shadier places than they have been for hundreds of years. This means that the food plants for butterflies can no longer grow in under-managed woods.

Our Approach

We provided a unique opportunity to combine woodland management projects with species-focused projects.

Butterfly Conservation worked closely with volunteers to monitor six endangered species of butterfly and moth which were found in the area. These were High Brown Fritillary, Duke of Burgundy butterfly, Large Heath butterfly, Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary, White Letter Hairstreak butterfly and Netted Carpet moth.

Known colony sites were studied to establish what makes them successful and habitat enhancement carried out where possible.

Can You Help?

We need volunteers

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© Rusland Horizons 2017 - 2019. All rights reserved.
Rusland Horizons was a Landscape Partnership funded by the National Heritage Lottery Fund until July 2019. It is now being delivered by The Rusland Horizons Trust Limited. Company No. 2133450; Charity No. 519410; Registered Office: Bleacott Farm, Witherslack, Grange-over-Sands, Cumbria LA11 6RZ.

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