Rare butterflies could benefit from new robot protecting Devon habitats

  • Watch Kathy Wardle's report

Devon Wildlife Trust has launched a conservation project to help four of the county’s rarest butterflies - with the help of a robot mower.

The Robo-Flail is a remote controlled mower and cutter that can clear large areas of gorse and brambles on sloped land.

The charity is using it to manage the levels of scrub across 12 of the nature reserves it manages across Devon to help butterflies thrive.

Devon Wildlife Trust using the RoboFlail at Teigngrace Meadow Nature Reserve Credit: ITV News

Jenny Cawson, Devon Fritillary Recovery Project Officer, said: “Devon Wildlife Trust’s nature reserves offer some of the last homes to our struggling butterflies, so it’s vital that we work hard to keep them in good condition."

"The RoboFlail can go where it’s unsafe or impossible for staff to go, especially on very steep slopes.

"Our aim is not to remove all bracken and gorse, but to ensure that there’s a better balance between scrubby and open areas. This is just what butterflies need to thrive."

The Devon Fritillary Recovery Project is focusing on helping struggling populations of High Brown, Pearl-bordered, Small Pearl-bordered and Marsh Fritillary butterflies.

Devon Wildlife Trust says all have seen their populations shrink dramatically in recent decades due to changes in farming, loss of habitat and climate change.

A High Brown Fritillary butterfly Credit: Chris Root

Worst affected is the High Brown Fritillary, which has seen its numbers crash by 96 per cent and is now one of the UK’s ‘most threatened species’.

A winter of butterfly restoration work is now underway across 122 hectares of land at some of the trust's nature reserves – that's about the same size as 160 football pitches. The reserves include:

  • Blackadon nature reserve, Dart Valley nature reserve, Emsworthy Mire and Dunsford nature reserve

  • Teigngrace Meadow nature reserve

  • Marsland nature reserve

  • Dunsdon nature reserve, Meshaw Moor nature reserve, Vealand Farm nature reserve, Veilstone nature reserve and Volehouse Moor nature reserve

  • Rackenford Moor nature reserve

The new project is set to run for 2 years, and is receiving support from Natural England’s Species Recovery Programme Capital Grant Scheme.