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Butterfly bonanza at Aldbury Nowers

Friday 19th July 2013

Record numbers of butterflies have been seen at a Wildlife Trust nature reserve near Tring, including a new record for the locally scarce dark green fritillary

Butterflies are recorded every week between April and September along a set survey route at Aldbury Nowers Nature Reserve. The survey completed last week (14 July) saw the highest ever number of butterflies recorded at the site since the Wildlife Trust started doing the weekly survey there. The record-breaking results included 296 marbled whites, 144 ringlets, 145 meadow browns, 57 large skippers and 19 dark green fritillaries.

The impressive numbers are a result of the hot sunny weather, coupled with the extensive work carried out by Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust to encourage the plants that butterflies like. Dark green fritillaries for example favour almost exclusively the common dog-violet and hairy violet to lay their eggs on.

Thirteen different species and a total of 676 butterflies were spotted on just one stretch of the reserve

Paul Thrush, Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust's Senior Reserves Officer says: "I’m thrilled that the restoration work we completed at Aldbury back in 2008 and our continued, day-to-day management of the reserve has reaped rewards for chalk grassland butterflies, including dark green fritillaries, which are generally in decline in central and eastern England.”

Numbers of dark green fritillaries have steadily increased over the years as a result of the Wildlife Trust’s management work at Aldbury Nowers. Two were recorded in 2010, 10 in 2011, 38 in 2012 and over 40 so far in 2013. This means they are generally more abundant on the reserve as a whole.

The work has benefited many other butterfly species too. Paul continues: “The reserve really is a fantastic sight at the moment. On this most recent survey I counted 13 different species and a total of 676 butterflies on just one stretch of the reserve! There were hundreds more on the wing across the grassland. Our day to day work includes cutting and raking the grassland – this, combined with grazing by our flock of Shetland sheep, allows rarer chalk grassland plants to emerge which in turn attract particular butterflies. With the continued dedication of volunteers and Wildlife Trust staff, this reserve has become the best place in the county for butterflies."

Around 80% of the UK’s chalk grassland habitat like that found at Aldbury Nowers has been lost in the last 60 years, as land has been developed and grasslands ‘improved’ for agriculture.

Tom Day, Head of Living Landscapes at the Trust, says: “The chalk soil is low in nutrients, which means it supports very particular wildlife. Improve the quality of the soil and you very quickly lose those special plants and butterflies. Aldbury Nowers is one patch of this chalk landscape which, with the vital help of Wildlife Trust members and volunteers, we are continuing to protect and restore. There are other important patches too. Our wider vision is to see chalk grassland habitats in the north and west of Hertfordshire connected back up and restored for wildlife on a much bigger scale. Only this landscape-wide approach, working with neighbouring landowners and land managers, will protect our special grassland wildlife for the future.”

Sarah Buckingham, Communications Manager at the Trust, says: “Many of our native butterflies are in decline, so it’s great to see how well they are doing at Aldbury Nowers this year. It’s a wonderful place to visit if you are planning to take part in the Big Butterfly Count. See how many butterflies you can record while you take in the stunning views from the ancient Ridgeway National Trail. A walk on the reserve at this time of year is highly recommended!”

The Big Butterfly Count takes place 20 July to 11 August:


Tagged with: Aldbury Nowers, Butterflies, Butterfly, Chalk grassland, Dark green fritillary, Large skipper, Marbled white, Meadow brown, Record numbers, Ringlet