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Butterfly Conservation and the Marsh Lepidoptera Award

The Duke of Burgundy is one of the two most rapidly-declining and threatened butterfly species in the UK which, together with the High Brown Fritillary, faces potential extinction unless emergency conservation measures are applied. Fewer than 90 colonies remain, with West Sussex being at the retreating western front of the species’ geographical distribution, leaving just isolated outliers in Kent. The vast majority of remaining colonies are very small, comprising no more than a handful of adult insects on the wing at any time during its May to early June flight season. Populations exceeding 30 Duke of Burgundy butterflies are now very rare.

Since 2005 the charity Butterfly Conservation has been working closely with the West Dean Estate and the South Downs National Park, to initially conserve, and then increasingly strengthen, the colony first discovered on the Estate in 2004. The results achieved so far have been nothing short of remarkable due to focused efforts to satisfy the species’ highly fussy habitat requirements.

This has been achieved by the removal of invasive conifers, opening up a strip of derelict coppice, and fencing and grazing the site with the Estate’s own cattle. Maximum daily counts of the butterfly have increased from 22 in 2008, to 63 in 2009 and 128 in 2010. The latter figure places the West Dean site firmly within the ‘top five’ remaining sites for the species in the UK. Those sites with higher maximum daily counts cover significantly wider areas of the landscape, so it is probably true to say that the West Dean Estate now supports the highest density of Duke of Burgundy butterflies in the UK.

The area of suitable habitat is being extended, and the Estate is grateful to Butterfly Conservation for funding this work through SITA and the Landfill Communities Fund. In November 2011 the Estate’s contribution was recognised by being awarded the Marsh Lepidoptera Award for the Promotion of Lepidoptera Conservation, a national award promoted by Butterfly Conservation.

To find out more information about Butterfly conservation, please visit the Butterfly Conservation website.

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