Heath Fritillary hits new highs in Kent


One of the UK's rarest butterflies had an exceptional year in Kent in 2019, Butterfly Conservation has revealed.

Heath Fritillary, which is found in only four locations in the UK, produced a stunning spectacle in Kent's Blean Woods, north of Canterbury. This was one of the best years on record for this threatened butterfly, with 2,292 of them being recorded on single-day counts.

Kent enjoyed a brilliant summer for its renowned Heath Fritillary populations (Bob Eade / Butterfly Conservation).

The butterfly's success is down to the combined conservation efforts of a variety of organisations including the RSPB, Kent Wildlife Trust, Forestry England, private woodland owners and South East Water, who also own part of the Blean complex.

Guided by the data collected by Butterfly Conservation, woodland has been managed to encorage the spread of the fritillary's foodplant, Common Cow-wheat, and also created open, sunny areas where the adult butterfly can fly and flourish.

These efforts have helped to take Heath Fritillary numbers from once-worrying lows to record numbers in 2019.

Regional Conservation Manager Steve Wheatley of Butterfly Conservation explained: "Heath Fritillary populations follow a boom and bust cycle due to the short-term suitability of breeding areas. However, 2019 was certainly a boom year thanks to all of the good work done by the various woodland managers.

"Heath Fritillary has almost died out in Kent on several occasions in the past, most notably in the 1980s, but the good management of a variety of organisations have combined to save it. This is a positive example of wildlife conservation in action and produces a beautiful spectacle for all of us to enjoy."

Heath Fritillary relies on sunny, open clearings in woodland, with an abundance of Common Cow-wheat (above), its foodplant (Pethan / commons.wikimedia.org).

Blean Woods RSPB Reserve Warden Sam Richardson said: "2019 was a great season and truly felt like one of the best nature spectacles I have ever seen when the sun hit the woodland floor and the butterflies rose in their hundreds. The combination of perfect weather conditions and plenty of suitable habitat all contributed to the success."

He praised the dedicated team of volunteers who help to manage the wood and who have been monitoring the butterfly there for 38 years. Kent Wildlife Trust's East Blean Nature Reserve near Herne village attracts butterfly enthusiasts and photographers from all over the country, with big numbers of the butterfly just 20 metres' walk from the visitor car park.

Matt Hayes from Kent Wildlife Trust explained: "At our East Blean reserve, we had so many visitors we had to put up signs to explain the importance of keeping to the paths to avoid trampling of the important Common Cow-wheat. We are now hoping for a good 2020 season."

Emma Goddard, Head of Environment for South East Water, added: "We are delighted to see that the conservation work at Blean Woods is paying off for wildlife. Careful land management not only improves biodiversity, but it also helps protect the natural water sources that we all rely on, so we are delighted to work closely with conservation partners to improve habitats across our region."

Butterfly Conservation would like to hear from anyone who would like to help with monitoring Heath Fritillary and other butterflies in 2020. If you'd like to get involved please contact Steve Wheatley via email.