Giving butterflies a lift

A project launched three years ago at Southam quarry is proving successful in saving the threatened Small Blue butterfly from extinction iin the West Midlands.


Butterfly project has taken off

Southam quarry is playing an important role in a successful project that is enabling threatened butterfly species to flourish after decades of decline.

Such is the significance of restored areas of thequarry for the Small Blue butterfly that it was chosen in 2009 for the launch of a campaign by the Butterfly Conservation charity which aims to restore flower-rich grassland habitat at 15 sites across the West Midlands.

Now, the charity says there is concrete evidence of success and has picked out the wider local work for particular acclaim. Once facing regional extinction in the West Midlands, the Warwickshire population of the Small Blue has, after just three years, increased from a low of three to eight colonies.

The project is highlighted in a new Butterfly Conservation report Landscape-scale conservation for butterflies and moths: lessons from the UK, which says that much has been learned from the local project. It says that, with adequate resources, it is relatively easy to restore limestone grassland and brownfield landscapes to provide the habitat required by the Small Blue.

Talks and training days have been held to recruit local volunteers to help with scrub management, and with raising and planting plug plants to provide the species with its favourite foods. Between October 2009 and February 2012, nearly 450 volunteer days of practical management were contributed across the various local sites.

Hopes are high for the future. To date, an additional 2.3 hectares of habitat has been occupied by the Small Blue, but nearly 30 hectares has been seeded or plug planted and over 30 hectares of scrub removed. "It is reasonable to assume that many more habitat patches and sites will come into suitable condition and eventually be colonised by the butterfly," says the report.

A landscape-scale approach works by improving and connecting land for wildlife by the coordinated conservation management of numerous sites for a range of species across a large natural area.

The blue lias cement quarries around Southam and Long Itchington have the low-fertility alkaline soils favoured by kidney vetch plants which in turn attract the Small Blue. Warwickshire’s population of the species is restricted to just three active or former quarries in the Southam area.

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Latest on this project

Visit Butterfly Conservation's website to check out the latest on its Bring back the Small Blue campaign supported by CEMEX UK and launched at Southam