Hope for rare butterfly

CONSERVATIONISTS were delighted today because moves to create a new colony in Suffolk of one of Britain's rarest butterflies appear to be succeeding.

CONSERVATIONISTS were delighted today because moves to create a new colony in Suffolk of one of Britain's rarest butterflies appear to be succeeding.

The team which re-introduced the distinctive silver-studded blue butterfly to an area of Blaxhall Heath near Woodbridge found 13 male and two females near areas where they were released.

Suffolk Wildlife Trust sandlings manager David Mason said: “The area of Blaxhall chosen for the relocation was a site that had all the suitable habitat requirements but was too far away from other Sandlings populations to enable butterflies to colonise naturally.

“The ratio of male to female suggests that the population is not yet at its peak for this year, so numbers should increase further.

“It's a promising start and shows that the butterflies successfully laid eggs on the site and that the associated ant species - vital for the survival of the species - were present, to aid with tending the larval stages of development.”

Rob Parker, the conservation officer for the Suffolk Branch of Butterfly Conservation who worked alongside SWT on the relocation, said: “This welcome news is just the first hurdle in the re-establishment of the species.

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“In many ways, the first year is the easy one.

“We now need to see whether the butterfly's needs are being properly met - it will take several years before we can be confident that they are permanently settled.

“We have established a weekly transect walk to count the silver-studded blues seen along a regular route across Blaxhall Heath, and this is being done by a team of local volunteers.

“The regular walk will enable us to assess the size of the population, its choice of habitat, and its progress or decline.

“We will keep the transect running for five years at least, and during that time we will aim to expand the flight area by managing the heather.”

The silver-studded blue butterfly is the rarest of all the butterflies found on the Suffolk Sandlings.

Conservationists relocated 30 adult butterflies collected from a thriving colony at Hollesley last year, releasing them at the new site at Blaxhall under carefully controlled conditions.

What do you think of the project? Write to Evening Star Letters, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail EveningStarLetters@eveningstar.co.uk

FASTFACTS: Silver-studded blue

The butterflies fly in June and July, and seldom straying far from where they emerge, making it difficult for new colonies to become established.

The butterfly's life cycle involves their dependency on ants.

The eggs are laid by the female butterflies on bell heather and ling and remain over winter, hatching as caterpillars in March or April. The caterpillars feed on heather secreting a sweet sticky substance which black ants crave.

To ensure they have a plentiful supply, the ants transport the caterpillars into their nest to protect them from predators - and only bring them out to feed.

When the caterpillars turn into a chrysalis in June they remain in the ants' nest for about 18 days, before emerging - still covered in black ants!