Saving the UK’s rarest butterfly

The High Brown Fritillary – the UK’s most endangered butterfly – has been thrown a lifeline

Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod

Home » Saving the UK’s rarest butterfly

Published: 4 February 2018

This Article was Written by: Katie Hill - My Green Pod


The High Brown Fritillary, the UK’s most endangered butterfly, has been thrown a lifeline for 2018 in a new conservation project by the National Trust and partners.

The charity is embarking on ambitious plans to develop 60 hectares of lowland heath and wood pasture – the butterfly’s main habitat – to give it a fighting chance for the future. The project has been made possible as part of an award of £750k made to the National Trust by players of People’s Postcode Lottery.

‘a catastrophic decline’

Over the last 50 years, the UK population of High Brown Fritillaries has declined rapidly, due to changes in woodland management and, more recently, the abandonment of marginal hill land. Butterflies, including High Browns, need large areas of the countryside to survive in good numbers, and their populations have struggled where these habitats have been overwhelmed by pressures from agriculture and development.

Now, climate change and nitrogen deposition from the atmosphere are almost certainly contributing to the High Brown’s demise. Overall, the UK population has declined by 66% since the 1970s.

‘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 support we have from players of People’s Postcode Lottery for nature conservation, alongside continued support for Heritage Open Days, is a wonderful boost to our work in 2018.’

National Trust nature expert and butterfly enthusiast

The £100k project

The exquisite Heddon Valley, on the Exmoor coast, is one of the few remaining strongholds where the Trust, with partners including Butterfly Conservation, has been working for years to save the species from extinction.

The £100k project will focus on restoring parts of the natural landscape along the Exmoor and North Devon coast to make it more suitable for the butterfly. Other wildlife including the Heath Fritillary, Nightjar and Dartford warbler will also benefit. High Brown Fritillaries can also be found on Dartmoor, in South Lakeland, Cumbria and at Morecambe Bay, Lancashire.

‘We’ve been working with the National Trust for many years to reverse the declines in the High Brown Fritillary on Exmoor, and I’m thrilled that players of People’s Postcode Lottery are supporting important management work in this landscape. Exmoor’s Heddon Valley supports the strongest population of High Brown Fritillary in England, but even here the butterfly remains at risk, and ongoing efforts to restore habitat and enable the butterfly to expand are crucial to its survival.’

Butterfly Conservation’s Senior Regional Officer

People-powered funding

As well as helping secure the future of High Brown Fritillaries, the £750k award from players of People’s Postcode Lottery will be used to fund several other National Trust conservation projects, along with continuing support for Heritage Open Days.

They include woodland management, pond creation, building bat boxes and installing infra-red cameras to monitor bat populations in the South Downs; restoring wildflower meadows along the Durham coast to help ground nesting birds such as skylarks and lapwings; planting hornbeam, beech and field maple trees at Woodside Green near Hatfield Forest; restoring grasslands and wildflower meadows along the North Pembrokeshire coast, helping birds including though and protecting and restoring chalk grasslands at the White Cliffs of Dover.

The National Trust is working with its tenants and partners to reverse the alarming decline in UK wildlife, aiming to restore 25,000 hectares of wildlife-rich habitat by 2025.

Click here to find out more about threats to UK butterflies.

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