David Elliott, Head Ranger on Black Down, West Sussex, tells us about the ranger team’s latest project:
This year on Black Down a very important project has been taking place – we’ve reintroduced a species.
The species in question is the Silver Studded Blue Butterfly. This kind of thing doesn’t come along every day, in fact it’s only the second time I have seen it in my career. In fact it is only the second time the National Trust has ever reintroduced a butterfly to a site where it has disappeared, and I am a little bit excited about it!
The Silver Studded Blue is a proper little marvel. It makes its home on heathland, but it needs heathland in really good condition in order to be able to survive. Heaths have been disappearing at an alarming rate for more than a hundred years. The type of varied age structure within the heather that this butterfly needs is even rarer.
The Black Down countryside team has been working hard for over 15 years restoring the landscape in this special little corner of West Sussex. What was a place swamped in Rhododendron and Pine is now an open, grazed heath full of wildlife with incredible views out across the South Downs National Park and beyond.
Despite heathland being a wonderful place, it has to be said that sometimes in June and July, before most of the heather comes into flower it can sometimes be a little brown. The butterfly in question is a lightning bolt of blue for your eyes within the brown heathers. It is tiny, about the size of your thumbnail, but it has enough colour packed into its delicate wings for a species 5 times the size. The male is a wonderful blue, but the female has to make do with a more everyday brown. She shares with him, though, the characteristic silvery blue studs that can just be seen inside the black dots at the back of the wings of this mating pair.
Over the past few weeks the Ranger team, working in close partnership with Butterfly Conservation, Natural England and the MOD, has been visiting donor sites, collecting butterflies and taking them up to an area of specially managed habitat on Black Down for release. This is the first of a planned 3 years of reintroductions which we hope will see the butterfly make a sustainable return to a very special place.
Over the coming years we will be fine tuning our management hoping to ensure we continue to provide the ideal conditions for our new inhabitants. Of course there are no guarantees it will all work, but we will certainly be doing our best!
Something like this is a real icing on the cake kind of moment, only possible because so many people have worked so hard to make everything that was required come into alignment. Easy to forget on a peaceful summers stroll across the hill when a wonderful blue butterfly flits across your path and takes your breath away.