Steve’s Nature Diary
As I write this article, it is exactly half way through the Wildlife Trusts’ 30 Days Wild Challenge and so far, I have managed to do something wild every day, and I hope to continue this to the end of the month. One of the suggestions that came up whilst I was checking the 30dayswild app was to visit a nature reserve you have never been to before and that’s what I am planning to do one evening this week when the showery weather stops and things warm up. The reserve is Durham Wildlife Trust’s Black Plantation near Lanchester which is now important for a particular species of butterfly that may still be on the wing in early July – the Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary.
Populations of this butterfly have been in decline and in 2000, there were only three known sites left, a decline attributed to changing climatic conditions, changes in land use and degradation of existing breeding grounds. Durham Wildlife Trust’s Heart of Durham Project, with support and funding from Northumbrian Water, was set up in 2010, with the specific aim of reversing the decline of the butterfly.
Through a collaborative approach with landowners and farmers, Butterfly Conservation and Durham Wildlife Trust, as well as the dedication of trust volunteers, areas where the butterfly was once common have been restored through scrub removal and planting of marsh violets, the larval food source. Nine years on, the project can now be hailed as ‘re-wilding success’.
Back in 2014, Black Plantation was chosen as a site to reintroduce captive-bred Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary butterfly caterpillars. From the initial 170 caterpillars released, today, five years on, the colony there has increased three-fold. A new interpretation board has been erected on the reserve all about the butterfly in memory of Harry Eales, who died in 2017 aged 74 years, who played a key role in recording butterflies in County Durham.
It is a very pretty butterfly; similar in size and habitat to the Pearl-bordered Fritillary but is more widespread and occurs in damper, grassy habitats as well as woodland clearings and moorland. The adults fly close to the ground, stopping frequently to take nectar from flowers such as Bramble and thistles. It can be identified from the more numerous whitish pearls on the underside hind wings, the outer ones bordered by black chevrons and from the larger black central dot. You can find more information about this and other local Wildlife Trust reserves by searching with your post code at www.wildlifetrusts.org/nature-reserves. You too can visit a nature reserve new to you! July is a good time for watching butterflies and you can take part in the big butterfly watch www.bigbutterflycount.org
/ which starts on the 19 July as a way of making your records count.