Rare butterfly thrives at Hatfield Forest

PUBLISHED: 17:03 29 July 2009 | UPDATED: 07:18 30 May 2010

RECORD numbers of the rare silver-washed fritillary butterfly have been officially recorded at the National Trust s Hatfield Forest for the first time in more than 50 years. The stunning butterflies were recorded as part of an annual butterfly monitoring

RECORD numbers of the rare silver-washed fritillary butterfly have been officially recorded at the National Trust's Hatfield Forest for the first time in more than 50 years.

The stunning butterflies were recorded as part of an annual butterfly monitoring program carried out by National Trust wardens and volunteers. The last time the silver-washed fritillary was recorded at Hatfield Forest was in 1955, though one singleton was seen flying through the forest in 2006, thought to be a vagrant from further afield.

The species disappeared from the whole of East Anglia during the 40's and 50's due to habitat loss and are still rare in the region. Their return to Hatfield Forest is a sure sign of good habitat management.

National Trust's nature conservation advisor, Stuart Warrington, said: "It is great to be able to add this species to our official records for Hatfield Forest after such a long absence.

"Their caterpillars feed on common dog violet, which needs sunlight on the woodland floor to grow well.

"The coppicing work the team have been carrying out here creates perfect conditions for violets to grow so it's clear that the hard work by the wardens and volunteers here is paying off with the return of the silver washed fritillary.

"We now hope that Hatfield Forest is a real hotspot for this species in Essex and the whole of East Anglia."

The purple hairstreak, a small and vivid tree-top butterfly, has also enjoyed resurgence at Hatfield this year due to the successful management of the woodland.

Assistant conservation warden, Adam Maher, worked with the volunteer butterfly survey team who discovered the butterflies.

"It's so exciting to come across these two very rare species whilst surveying the forest, and in such good numbers as well," he said.

"We recorded six male silver washed fritillaries at one time, showing that this beautiful butterfly is making a strong return to Hatfield Forest and the East of England.

"It's a great encouragement for us that we're looking after the Forest in a way that's good for the wildlife."

Whilst purple hairstreak's are hard to spot, up in the tree canopy, silver washed fritillaries can now be seen all over the forest, feeding on bramble and flying in the sheltered woodland rides.

So why not pack a picnic and some binoculars and head to Hatfield to do your own butterfly hunt this summer, or join in one of the events at the Forest organised by the wardens.

Full details can be found at www.nationaltrust.org.uk

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