Encouraging the re-emergence of the Silver Studded Blue butterfly
This time of year finds the Pebblebed Heaths Conservation Trust carrying out vital species-specific work, giving our local heathland plant and animal life the best chance for survival. The charity was established in 2006 by Clinton Devon Estates to ensure that the Pebblebed Heaths of Devon are managed for the benefit of wildlife and the public.
One of the species that is very important to us is the Silver Studded Blue butterfly. This used to be a fairly common resident of lowland heath and limestone grassland across the British Isles. However, with so much of its natural habitat disappearing in recent times, its numbers have decreased dramatically, with an estimated decline of over 25% across its range. Now extinct in Scotland and northern England the butterfly is currently restricted to scattered localities in southern England and Wales. The species is considered vulnerable to extinction and as such is listed on the Butterfly Red List for Great Britain and is a target species for action under the UK's Biodiversity Action Plan.
The lowland heaths of East Budleighand BictonCommon aretwo of the best places in Devonto see this butterfly. Even so it needs all the help we can give it to ensure its long-term survival, and there are a number of measures that can be taken.
The primary food plants of the larval and adult phases of the Silver Studded Blueare in the heather family, and the species thrives best in heathlandin an early stage of development when the vegetation is still open and the ground partially exposed. These conditions also suit colonies of black ants with which the butterfly associates.The relationship between the butterfly and ant provides a fine example of symbiosis, a close ecological relationship between two species where both benefit. In this casethe caterpillars excrete a sweet substance that the ants feed on, with the ants protecting the caterpillars.
On Saturday 23rd February we held a 'Butterfly Work Party', where a group of enthusiastic locals gave their time to control tree seedlings that are encroaching on Silver Studded Blue habitat.The resultof such work isn't always immediate -it can take a number of years for the butterfly to appear in new areas of prime habitat. So patience is required - where the team were working hard this weekend, the Silver Studded Blue will flutter into view in 2016!
Other, similar work currently underway is the protection of the habitat of the southern damselfly and alsowork to ensure that the heathsare maintained as a patchwork of habitats of different ages that encourages a diverse fauna and flora.