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Large blue butterfly back from extinction and thriving in south-west England

The Large Blue Butterfly, which was once declared extinct, is now flourishing in south-west England thanks to meticulous conservation efforts.

After being reintroduced to the UK in 1983, south-west England is now home to the largest concentration of Large Blue butterflies in the world.

Now twelve new sites, including arable land, failed conifer plantations and railway constructions, are being restored to wild meadowland suitable for the butterflies to breed in.

Already, these support a third of the UK’s Large Blue population, up from 7% in 2019, and is providing ideal breeding grounds for a variety of plants and insects too.

Plants benefitting from the restored land include the extremely rare Pasqueflower, Cut-leaved Selfheal and 12 species of orchid, while the nationally threatened shrill carder bee and the Downland villa bee fly, not recorded in the UK for 50 year, have also made an appearance.

Prof Jeremy Thomas, Emeritus Professor of Ecology at the University of Oxford and Chair of the Joint Committee for the Re-establishment of the Large Blue Butterfly, said: ‘The unprecedented success of this project is testimony to what large scale collaboration between conservationists, scientists and volunteers can achieve. Its greatest legacy is that it demonstrates that we can reverse the decline of globally-threatened species once we understand the driving factors.’

The habitats have also allowed the Rock-rose Pot Beetle, the Rugged Oil Beetle and eight Red Data-listed butterflies to thrive amongst other more common insects.

These restorations are important internationally, as the Large Blue butterfly is listed as one of Europe’s most endangered species and is regarded similarly worldwide.

The new sites will link or extend more-established populations spanning over mid Somerset and the Cotswold Hills in Gloucestershire which are manged, owned or administered by six partner organisations.

These include the National Trust, Somerset and Gloucestershire Wildlife Trusts, J & F Clark Trust, Natural England and Oxford University.

Next, the partnership are focusing on researching and expanding the Large Blue’s range across three landscapes in its former habitat in the Cotswold Hills, as well as understanding threats posed by the climate crisis.

Photo provided by Royal Entomological Society

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