Rare UK butterfly given a boost by woodland work

Conservation work at RSPB Blean Woods reveals nature’s glory

One of the country’s rarest and most threatened butterfly species, the heath fritillary, is one of the many benefactors of work carried out at RSPB Blean Woods with funding from Viridor Credits Environmental Company.

Money from the Landfill Communities Fund has allowed wardens to expand the area of woodland they coppice at Blean, creating new and improved rides and clearings. This work has created ideal habitats where the heath fritillary caterpillar’s main food source, common cow-wheat, can thrive. The yellow-flowering plant needs open sunny glades in order to grow.

The reserve has been traditionally managed using ancient coppicing techniques, but the extra funding has enabled wardens and volunteers to work with contractors to achieve more in a shorter time span.

Warden Nick Covarr says: “The old idiom of not being able to see the wood for the trees is being made reality here as the way we coppice or thin growth is enabling a much healthier and biodiverse woodland. Cow-wheat only truly thrives in the first three to ten years after an area has been coppiced. Making sure there’s always enough woodland in the right condition is essential to maintain and grow our heath fritillary population here at Blean.”

Coppicing is the cutting of trees with stumps left to regenerate until the new stems are large enough to be harvested for firewood, timber or other uses. It makes use of the natural regeneration properties of many trees, including native oak, hazel, sweet chestnut, lime and ash.

Warden Nick Covarr says “…Making sure there’s always enough woodland in the right condition is essential to maintain and grow our heath fritillary population here at Blean.

Gareth Williams, Operations Manager at Viridor Credits, says: “improving the UK’s biodiversity is a major aim of both Viridor Credits and the Landfill Communities Fund. We are grateful to the RSPB for helping to deliver this aim through the invaluable work they do for our environment.”

The RSPB reserve covers 510 hectares and forms part of the larger 5000 hectare Blean complex, owned and managed by a variety of organisations and private individuals. It is the largest tract of semi-natural woodland in England. The nature reserve is home to at least eight colonies of heath fritillaries; that’s about a third of all the known colonies in the wider Blean Complex

For further information please contact:

Tim Webb, communications officer, 020 7808 1246, 07921 740 753 or [email protected]

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