19th June 2023
Norfolk naturalists return rare blue butterfly to its former haunts
A group of naturalists have netted 35 Silver-studded blue butterflies at Buxton Heath and released them in their former haunt at Broadland Country Park, near Horsford. These lovely but scarce little butterflies have been lost from more than 80% of their former habitats in the past century as their heathland homes were lost to forestry and housing developments. They are currently found at only four locations in Norfolk.
The site now known as Broadland Country Park was the source of introductions of the butterfly to Horsford Rifle Range, and from there to other sites in Norfolk, including Buxton Heath. But ironically, the original population was lost in the 1950s when plantation forestry took over. Now returned to heathland with plenty of the heather and black ants that the butterflies need to complete their life-cycle, the species can be returned to its former home.
The lead-up to the project has been painstaking, involving several partners, as Dr Mark Collins, who leads the project for NNNS, the Norfolk & Norwich Naturalists’ Society, said “This is a protected species, and permission was needed from Natural England, as well as vital support from the Norfolk Wildlife Trust, who manage Buxton Heath, and Butterfly Conservation, which has unrivalled experience of such translocations.”
The caterpillars are protected from predators and parasites by a species of black ant that takes them down into their nests, where they pupate and over-winter before emerging as adults in June. “We carried out a detailed survey to ensure that the ants were present in good numbers, and the heather was in good condition for the nectar-feeding adults” explained Dr Collins. “But it will be some years before we know whether the reintroduction has fully succeeded”. Monitoring at the Park will continue for at least the next five years.
Broadland Country Park was established by Broadland District Council just a few years ago and is a popular site for local people. Dave Weaver, an award-winning volunteer at the Park since its inception, said, “With careful management, Broadland Country Park will be an important site for nature recovery and biodiversity in Norfolk. During a three-year research project with NNNS, more than 2000 different species have been found here, and the return of the Silver-studded blue to its former home is a moment of great pride to us all.”
Images below, credit Hans Watson.
Contact: Dr Mark Collins, Norfolk & Norwich Naturalists’ Society – 07941248100