Grant for butterfly scheme

Britain’s most threatened butterfly is being offered a helping hand to recovery in the Morecambe Bay and South Cumbria area, thanks to a grant boost from the Forestry Commission’s English Woodland Grant Scheme.

High Brown Fritillary butterfly

High Brown Fritillary butterfly

The Morecambe Bay limestone area and the South Cumbria low fells are the last national stronghold for the High Brown Fritillary butterfly and the single most important area for butterflies in northern England.

However, due to a decline in coppicing and woodland management and changes in agriculture, the High Brown Fritillary population has declined by almost 80% over the past 35 years.

To help reverse the population decline, the Forestry Commission has awarded Woodland Improvement Grants (WIG) to a number of local land owners and managers, including the National Trust, who owns the land at Eaves Wood and Arnside Knott, near Silverdale.  The money will now be used to carry out a programme of habitat restoration on grasslands and woodland coppicing.

 James Bickley, Woodland Officer for the Forestry Commission in North West England, said:

 “The Morecambe Bay Limestones and South Cumbria area is the last remaining stronghold of the High Brown Fritillary in Britain.  Even here the numbers have been falling and the remaining butterflies are in increasing isolated pockets of woodland. 

 “The Forestry Commission’s Woodland Improvement Grant will fund practical conservation work to help maintain and hopefully increase numbers of the species in the area for future generations to enjoy.”

Butterflies, like the High Brown Fritillary, live in woodland clearings where trees have recently been cut down or coppiced, to then grow up again in a sustainable and natural cycle.  

Such rich and diverse habitat includes areas of growing trees, deadwood, grass, bracken and open scrub giving great value to wildlife.  However, woodland practices such as coppicing and thinning have declined, and many woodland areas have become increasingly shady and overgrown.

 To improve the habitat for these threatened butterflies and encourage recolonisation in the Morecambe Bay Limestones, the National Trust will be using the WIG funding to create glades and help develop the local coppice industry. 

 The National Trust’s Alan Ferguson, says:

 “This grant is an exciting boost to The National Trust’s Morecambe Bay Properties twin aims to sustainably manage land for access and wildlife. By returning previously worked coppice blocks back to production there is a gain for the landscape, wildlife and future employment in a declined industry. The cyclical production and sale of local produce to a local market has to make sense.”

 Coppicing and thinning helps to maintain the perfect habitat for the marsh violet, which is the main food source for both caterpillars and adult butterflies.  The technique is also valuable for nesting birds and the wood collected may be used for producing charcoal.

 Another key aim of this work is for the National Trust and the local coppice industry to work together and develop woodland management and coppice systems that produce more commercially useable timber and other woodland products. 

 It is hoped that the project will help to develop new markets for local woodland products, such as wattle hurdles and charcoal, which can directly lead to local employment opportunities, a sustainable future woodland management and directly benefit biodiversity. 

 The National Trust land is within the Arnside and Silverdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, which is home to over half of the British flowering plant species and many of the rarest insects.

 In the summer, the area comes alive with special limestone-loving flowers, which attract the butterflies to feed and lay their eggs.

 The area supports significant populations of several other threatened species of butterfly, including the Dingy Skipper, Northern Brown Argus, Duke of Burgundy, Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary, Pearl-bordered Fritillary and Grayling.

 Other organisations involved with conserving the High Brown Fritillary on the Morecambe Bay Limestones include

Butterfly Conservation has secured additional funding for the project from Grantscape, through the Landfill Communities Fund.

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