Naturalists at Hutchinson’s Bank nature reserve are celebrating the sighting of a rare butterfly.
Hutchinson’s Bank is one of the richest remaining chalk grassland habitats in London, and this year it has been just a touch richer with the appearance of the brown hairstreak butterfly.
London Wildlife Trust has been working to expand habitats for around 30 butterfly species at the nature reserve. The butterflies include grizzled skipper, dark green fritillary, small blue, brown argus and chalk hill blue. All have been helped to thrive by the Trust’s work to reduce scrub encroachment and allow controlled grazing, but it was the sighting of the brown hairstreak that really highlighted the project’s success.
These rare butterflies spend their time high in the tops of ash trees, where they feed on honeydew from aphids and bask in the sun, or hiding among thick hedges. This summer Martin Wills, a local volunteer, was lucky enough to spot a brown hairstreak at the reserve in New Addington.
Shaun Marriott, a reserve manager for London Wildlife Trust, said: “It is very encouraging to see the brown hairstreak back at Hutchinson’s. They are very elusive and haven’t been seen here for many years.
“We have cut back the scrub to make way for wildflowers, but it was important we didn’t remove too much because the brown hairstreak lays its eggs on blackthorn. Seeing the butterfly here means we have managed to strike a balance and get the best of both worlds.”
Many butterfly species, including the brown hairstreak, have experienced severe declines in numbers over recent years and work to improve and expand their habitats is crucial to reversing this trend. Nationally, areas of chalk grassland like Hutchinson’s Bank have reduced by 97 per cent in the last 60 years because of suburban development, invasive species and changing farming methods.
Climate change could also add another threat to this habitat in future. With only around 40,000 hectares remaining, chalk grassland is now a priority habitat under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP).
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