One of Europe's rarest butterflies discovered in Lake District

At least six of the butterflies have been discovered in the Lake District. Credit: Lee Schofield

One of Europe's rarest butterflies, the Marsh Fritillary, has been found in the Lake District.

The site at Haweswater is managed by the RSPB and the discovery was made earlier this month.

The butterfly was once widespread throughout the UK but numbers declined severely over the 20th century. This was as a result to changes to farming and the drainage of damp grasslands.

The number of colonies in Cumbria dropped from over 200 to just three in the year 2000 and by 2004 they faced extinction in the county.

Lee Schofield, RSPB Site Manager at Haweswater said: “This is what I love about nature, it’s full of surprises. We know there were sightings of Marsh Fritillaries just over the fell from Swindale, in Wet Sleddle last year, so it’s not very far as the butterfly flies.

The discovery has been welcomed. Credit: David Morris

"We had actually planned to re-introduce this species to Haweswater through the Cumbria Connect partnership programme, part of which involves bringing lost species back to this area of the Eastern Lake District. But now following our management to create the conditions they need, nature has done it all by itself. It’s hugely satisfying seeing wildlife respond to the improved quality of habitats at Haweswater.

In 2007, the Cumbria Marsh Fritillary Project released 42,000 Marsh Fritillary larvae over four sites in the county. This was part of a scheme aimed at bringing back butterflies to the area, in order for them to spread out naturally.

Dr Dave Wainwright, Head of Conservation at Butterfly Conservation said: The appearance of the Marsh Fritillary at Swindale is reward for all the hard work and planning by our colleagues at RSPB.

"It adds another piece to the jigsaw of occupied habitat in North Cumbria and it is this landscape-scale approach, enabled by multiple partners, that has driven the success of the species’ reintroduction. All partners involved, both in the initial reintroduction and the essential land management that underpins it, can feel tremendously proud that this beautiful and iconic species continues to expand within the landscapes of Cumbria.”

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