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Funding boosts woodland restoration project for rare butterflies at RSPB reserve

A high brown fritillary butterfly. Credit David Mower

The RSPB are pleased to announce an exciting woodland restoration project at their Challan Hall Allotment nature reserve in Silverdale, a satellite site of their popular Leighton Moss reserve. Thanks to generous funding, work can begin later this year to restore the reserve for rare butterflies.

Historically the site had a wonderful mixture of open limestone pavement and grassland, as well as woodland, all of which is required by these butterflies. However, since the 1940s the area has become increasingly overgrown and the open areas that used to benefit a whole host of wildlife have mostly been lost to predominantly woodland.

Since 2001, the RSPB have owned the site and their small team of wardens and volunteers have been maintaining it. This restoration has been able to take place thanks to the generous support of the Lancashire Environmental Fund, Arnside & Silverdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) Grants Fund (operated by Arnside & Silverdale AONB and the Arnside/Silverdale Landscape Trust working together), and with assistance from wildlife charity Butterfly Conservation.

The surrounding landscape is home to a number of nationally rare and threatened butterflies. Initial restoration work over two years has been planned in collaboration with Natural England, who manage nearby Gait Barrows National Nature Reserve. The hope is for the work to provide more wildlife corridors between these existing nature reserves to link populations together, as well as creating new areas to try and help boost the numbers of these rare butterflies.

Jarrod Sneyd, RSPB Senior Site Manager said: “The AONB is a key location for many of our rarest butterflies such as high brown fritillaries and Duke of Burgundy, which are not found in many places in this country. However, like a lot of the UK’s butterflies, their numbers are worryingly in decline. This means it’s critical to think about corridors and connections for wildlife movement. It’s all about working in partnership, making sure nature reserves aren’t isolated and sit within a bigger, better, more connected landscape.”

Traditional practices using local workers are being restarted in the woodland including coppicing, where trees are cut down in patches over a number of years and then allowed to re-grow. Initially this creates a flush of wild flowers, especially violets for the rare fritillaries to lay their eggs on. A whole range of other wildlife also benefits from having trees at a range of ages, including bats and birds.

Some overgrown areas of limestone pavement and grassland will also be opened up, bringing more sunlight into the reserve. These habitats provide a home not only to specialised plants but also to other rare species like the distinctive white spotted-sable moth.

Nick Godden, RSPB Assistant Warden added: “We are very excited to be working closely with local coppice workers to deliver this project and we look forward to seeing how wildlife responds in the coming years.”

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