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Guildford Sites Chosen To Halt Decline of Small Blue Butterfly

Published on: 16 Oct, 2013
Updated on: 16 Oct, 2013
The Small Blue (Photo - Peter Eeles & Butterfly Conservation)

The Small Blue (Photo – Peter Eeles & Butterfly Conservation)

Surrey Wildlife Trust (SWT) is beginning an exciting project in three Guildford sites to halt the decline of the small blue butterfly in Surrey.

The aim of the project  is to improve the lowland calcareous grassland habitat to encourage the spread of the small blue and many other associated species, by clearing scrub, creating scrapes and sowing kidney vetch seed at grassland sites around the Guildford area.

The small blue, Cupido minimus, is Britain’s smallest butterfly. It has suffered a severe decline in its distribution due to loss of suitable habitat and is now only found in small populations scattered throughout the UK. Southern England remains a stronghold for the species, but most colonies are small with fewer than 30 butterflies occupying a few square metres. In Surrey the small blue is restricted to the chalk soils of the North Downs and despite being common in Surrey at the start of the 20th century, the species is now found on less than 15 sites.

Suitable sites for the small blue are sheltered grasslands which contain a good amount of kidney vetch (the sole foodplant of the small blue), together with a mosaic of short and tall vegetation which provide bare ground, roosting sites and shelter. Three sites have been carefully chosen for the project work; Newlands Corner, The Mount and Pewley Down. Two of the sites have historical records of small blue colonies and have the potential to support the species again and the third site has an existing small population that has the potential to support a much larger population.

Professional contractors and volunteers will remove overgrown scrub from the sites, creating bare ground to encourage the establishment of grassland species. Grazing and mowing regimes will also be essential for the restoration and maintenance of the sites.

Over the course of the project scrapes will be created, adding variation in aspect, removing nutrient enriched soils and encouraging a diversity of butterfly and moth food plants. Seed of kidney vetch will be collected from local sources and used to seed the scrapes.

The project is being conducted  in partnership with Butterfly Conservation, The Albury Estate, Pewley Down Volunteers and Guildford Borough Council.

Sarah Meredith, Butterfly Conservation Project Officer, said: “This is an exciting partnership lead project that will not only benefit the small blue but many other important species associated with Lowland Calcareous grassland such as the silver spotted skipper, dingy skipper, chalkhill blue, autumn lady’s-tresses, kidney vetch, horseshoe vetch and autumn gentian.”

Lucy Bryce, SWT Assistant Ranger, said: “The chalk grassland at Newlands Corner will benefit enormously from this project and the work will not only offer habitat for the small blue but also other butterfly and flora species. It will also provide a wide range of volunteer opportunities from scrub clearance to survey work. I’d like to thank the Albury Estate for their support in this project. We look forward to getting started this winter!”

Training will be given to volunteers to enable them to undertake scrub clearance, seeding and butterfly monitoring. Those interested in volunteering or who would like more information about this project, are asked to contact SWT Assistant Ranger Lucy Bryce on 07968 832501. Work parties are scheduled to take place on Saturday, November 30 and Saturday, December 7 2013.

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