Victory! Rare butterfly discovered at Kentish wood
The wildlife successes keep coming for our amazing sites in the South East, with the recent discovery of the heath fritillary, one of the UK’s rarest butterflies, for the first time at our Victory Wood site in east Kent and certainly a result of work here by the Woodland Trust!
Conservationists say the butterfly would, almost certainly, have become extinct in the UK were it not for conservation efforts over the past two decades as the species is restricted to very small pockets of woodlands in the south of England. It is now unthinkable that the ancient woodland at Victory Wood was felled and ploughed up between the 1950s and 1970s and later earmarked as a potential landfill site. Saved by the Woodland Trust in 2004, we’ve now restored this valuable area, re-connecting it to nearby, surviving ancient woodland fragments.
Claire Inglis, Assistant Site Manager for the wood, said:
“The discovery of heath fritillary is a wonderful find and comes after many years of hard work from volunteers and Trust staff to restore the site to some of its former glory. We planted large areas of woodland and ensured buffer zones linked the adjacent ancient woodland areas to encourage natural regeneration. This, along with maintaining wide rides, has all been important for the establishment of this special butterfly. This demonstrates the importance of our work, and we hope to discover more species colonising the site in the months and years to come.”
The charity Butterfly Conservation has been working to conserve the heath fritillary since the early 1980s. Regional Conservation Manager for Butterfly Conservation, Steve Wheatley, said: “This is the result of an intricate chain of actions that began when the Woodland Trust started their restoration project.
“The female heath fritillary needs the plant common cow-wheat to lay eggs for the next generation of caterpillars to feed upon. Cow-wheat is slow to spread, relying on wood ants to carry the seeds to new areas. In order for the cow-wheat to grow, it needs to take carbon and minerals from the roots of nearby oaks. This relationship between the ants, the trees, the flower, and the butterfly is just magical, and none of this could have happened without the vision of the Woodland Trust. This discovery proves the heath fritillary is now resident at Victory Wood and is an example of how working in partnership is having a positive effect on our native species.”
Claire had alerted Butterfly Conservation to the presence of the wood ants and subsequent reappearance of cow-wheat. In Summer 2020, Steve surveyed the cow-wheat and determined that it was now becoming sufficiently abundant to support the butterfly. Returning this spring, a team of Butterfly Conservation staff and WT staff and volunteers searched on hands and knees to look for the caterpillar. Steve’s intuition was proven when he was rewarded by spotting the first caterpillar basking on an oak leaf next to a clump of nibbled cow-wheat!
Well done to Claire and her team for this amazing achievement and excellent partnership work! The heath fritillary is on the wing now and might be spotted at Victory Wood and other nearby woods if you are able to visit. Find out more about the butterfly here: https://butterfly-conservation.org/butterflies/heath-fritillary
Words: Grace Davis, Engagement and Communications Officer (South East) and Anna Claxton, Volunteer Development Officer (South East)
Pics: Alan Stubbs, Volunteer Wildlife Monitor for the Woodland Trust and Bumblebee Conservation