One of UK's rarest butterflies is discovered in east Kent

A Heath Fritillary adult butterfly Credit: Iain H Leach

One of the UK's rarest butterflies has been found in east Kent. 

The Heath Fritillary, which has been brought back from the brink of extinction, has been discovered at the Woodland Trust's Victory Wood as part of a restoration project. The Trust has been recording the wildlife as it returns to Victory Wood since 2005.

The butterfly needs the common cow-wheat plant to lay eggs on, but the plant is slow to spread and relies on wood ants to carry seeds to new areas.

Credit: PA

Woodland Trust staff alerted Butterfly Conservation to the presence of wood ants and subsequent reappearance of cow-wheat, and in summer 2020 Mr Wheatley surveyed the plant and found it was sufficiently abundant to support the return of the butterfly.

Several heath fritillaries were seen venturing from nearby sites, but signs of the insect in earlier stages of their life cycle were needed to prove they were using the site.

The first caterpillar found Credit: Rebecca Levey

This spring Butterfly Conservation and Woodland Trust staff and volunteers got down on their hands and knees to look for the caterpillar.

The first was spotted on an oak leaf next to a clump of nibbled cow-wheat, and the second found minutes later.

Experts say the discovery proves the Heath Fritillary is now resident at Victory Wood Credit: PA

Steve Wheatley, Butterfly Conservation's Regional Conservation Manager, said:

“The return of the Heath Fritillary to Victory Wood is the result of an intricate chain of actions that began when the Woodland Trust started their restoration project.

“The female Heath Fritillary needs to find the plant Common Cow-wheat to lay eggs for the next generation of caterpillars to feed upon. The Cow-wheat is slow to spread, relying on Wood Ants to carry the seeds to new areas. In order for the Cow-wheat to grow, it needs to take carbon and minerals from the roots of nearby oaks. This relationship between the ants, the trees, the flower, and the butterfly is just magical, and none of this could have happened without the vision of the Woodland Trust.

“This discovery proves the Heath Fritillary is now resident at Victory Wood and is an example of how working in partnership is having a positive effect on our native species.”

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