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Plans to save UK’s rarest butterfly

The National Trust is embarking on ambitious plans to develop 60 hectares of lowland heath and wood pasture in a bid to save the UK’s rarest and most endangered butterfly, The High Brown Fritillary.

The last 50 years has seen a rapid decline in High Brown numbers, with changes in their natural habitat and pressures from agriculture and development the main factors. Butterflies need large areas of countryside to survive in good numbers, and their populations have struggled where these habitats have been compromised. In addition, climate change is also now contributing to the High Brown’s demise.

Heddon Valley on the Exmoor coast is one of the butterfly’s few remaining strongholds and The National Trust is working with partners, including Butterfly Conservation, to save the species from extinction here.

The £100k project, part of an award made to the Trust by players of People’s Postcode Lottery, will focus on restoring parts of the natural landscape along the Exmoor and North Devon coast to make it more suitable for the High Brown. Other wildlife including the Heath Fritillary, Nightjar and Dartford warbler will also benefit. High Brown Fritillaries can also be found on Dartmoor, in South Lakeland, Cumbria and at Morecambe Bay, Lancashire.

Matthew Oates, National Trust nature expert and butterfly enthusiast, said, “We’ve witnessed a catastrophic decline of many native butterfly populations in recent decades but initiatives like this can really help to turn the tide. Combined with increased recording and monitoring efforts, there is significant hope for some of our most threatened winged insects.

Jenny Plackett, Butterfly Conservation’s Senior Regional Officer, said: “We’ve been working with the National Trust for many years to reverse the declines in the High Brown Fritillary on Exmoor, and I’m thrilled that players of People’s Postcode Lottery are supporting important management work in this landscape. Exmoor’s Heddon Valley supports the strongest population of High Brown Fritillary in England, but even here the butterfly remains at risk, and ongoing efforts to restore habitat and enable the butterfly to expand are crucial to its survival.”

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