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Have you seen this butterfly

( Last Updated: 07-09-2016 )

Local farming and conservation organisations in the Blackdown Hills are calling on landowners and smallholders to check their land for a fugitive - one of the rarest butterflies in this part of the South West.

 Marsh Fritillary butterflyThe Marsh Fritillary has disappeared from most of its former haunts in the Blackdown Hills over the past decade, with only two known locations now recorded. But in the secret, diverse landscape on the border between Somerset and Devon, there is still a chance that isolated populations still exist.

Many farmers and smallholders on the Blackdown Hills have patches of wet, tussocky land on the sloping ‘springline' land around the valley sides of the hills. This is the habitat where Marsh Fritillaries could still be hanging on, alongside plants like marsh orchids, ragged robin, scabious and meadowsweet.

Marsh Fritillaries are small butterflies with a colourful ‘chequerboard' pattern, and they are on the wing during June. They search for nectar from meadow thistles and lay their eggs on devil's-bit scabious.

The Blackdown Hills Trust (BHT) has produced a new handy, pocket-sized identification card showing the Marsh Fritillary and a range of other rare and not-so-rare butterflies found in the Hills. These are available free from outlets in and around the Blackdown Hills including Honiton and Wellington Tourist Information, Hemyock Post Office and Spar, Churchinford community shop, and pubs including the Merry Harriers and the Half Moon at Clayhidon, the Greyhound at Staple Fitzpaine, and the Holman Clavel.

John Greenshields from the BHT said "Now is the time to get out and look at those marshy, flowery pastures and field corners, and see what's fluttering about in the sunshine. Even if you don't find a Marsh Fritillary, there's lots of wildlife to see in these places at this time of year."

Meanwhile another locally-run community group, the Blackdown Hills Rough Grazing Association (BHRGA), invites owners of wildlife-rich land to join its network, which provides information and farm visits - see www.blackdownsroughgrazers.co.uk.

Both the BHT and the BHRGA form part of a partnership of local organisations working together on a strategy to improve the future for butterflies in the Blackdown Hills. These include Somerset Wildlife Trust, Butterfly Conservation and the Blackdown Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, whose Natural Futures project is offering free training to local people in how to spot butterflies and other wildlife - see www.blackdownhillsnaturalfutures.org.

Anyone who thinks they may have seen Marsh Fritillaries is asked to contact Dave Ayling, a local volunteer butterfly expert with Butterfly Conservation. Dave can be contacted by email dave.ayling@somerset-butterflies.org.uk or by phone on 01643 821664.

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