The strategy supports the agreement between Forestry Commission England and Butterfly Conservation to conserve and increase populations of butterflies and moths through improving woodland management across top sites for priority species.
Forestry Commission England agrees to manage its land to encourage and support Lepidoptera and in turn Butterfly Conservation will monitor species populations and provide encouragement, management advice and support as required. Both organisations will strive towards achieving favourable conservation status for the butterflies and moths identified in this strategy across the priority woodlands.
During the 20th century there has been an increasingly rapid decline in woodland butterflies with many species disappearing from their former range. The abundance of butterflies in woodlands has dropped by 43% over the last 16 years. The decline for generalist species was 45% and for woodland species 39%. Some, such as the Pearl-bordered Fritillary and Heath Fritillary are now endangered nationally, while others, such as the Wood White are undergoing a rapid rate of colony extinction. Moths have also seen a decline. Woodland is an extremely important habitat for British butterflies and moths
Nearly three-quarters of all British butterflies will use woodland as breeding habitat. Around 530 of the approximately 2500 moth species regularly occupy woodland.
Butterflies and moths are known to be valuable indicators of the changes affecting the wider countryside and recent studies suggest that a large number of species are in decline.
One hundred and forty sites were originally identified in the Strategy as priority woodlands for butterflies and moths. Four of these sites are no longer managed by the Forestry Commission, so the total number of woodlands covered by the strategy review in 2012 was 136. Following this review:
- 85 (change from 77) sites have been graded A because they support species such as the Pearl-bordered Fritillary and Argent & Sable that depend specifically on woodland and require urgent targeted management
- 27 (change from 33) sites are graded B. These sites support a lesser variety of priority species or species that are not so reliant on urgent woodland management such as the Grizzled Skipper
- 24 (change from 30) sites are graded C. These sites support more generalist priority species or species of conservation concern such as the White Admiral
These woodlands and associated open spaces such as heathland represent 3% of the public forest estate and 50% of them have SSSI designation.
Managing woodlands for Lepidoptera will make an important contribution to many other work programmes including work to enhance the condition of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), ancient woodland restoration and Biodiversity Action Plan habitat restoration.
The burgeoning woodfuel sector – which is increasing demand and providing a viable market for small diameter wood is, in turn, providing new opportunities for the creation of sunny rides and young coppice favoured by butterflies and moths.
The Conservation Strategy will be reviewed on a rolling programme. The overall success will be determined by the status of priority Lepidoptera at priority sites at the next review in 2017.
Through active forest management planned for butterflies and moths, Forestry Commission England aims to conserve populations of all BAP Lepidoptera species on the Forestry Commission England Estate.
The priorities are to:
- Prevent further extinctions
- Stabilise colonies and numbers
- Increase populations and range of the BAP Priority Species that require
targeted woodland management
- Ensuring that more urgent action is carried out within the Priority Sites that are listed in this Strategy and that this management is integrated with other
management activities such as native woodland restorarion, timber harvesting (including woodfuel initiatives), SSSI condition enhancement and Habitat Action Plan restoration targets.
- Raising awareness and promoting a better understanding of Priority Sites and
species to inform and guide all stages of Priority Site management from Forest Design Planning through to Operational Site Assessment and activity in the woods.
- Increasing communication between Forestry Commission staff and Butterfly Conservation staff and to ensure that expert advice is sought by both parties when appropriate.
- Encouraging further survey effort for Lepidoptera within Forestry Commission woodlands, especially Grade A Priority Sites, and ensuring that records of scarce and threatened species are forwarded to Butterfly Conservation.
- Ensuring increased monitoring of Priority Sites results in more informed and
responsive actions being taken in terms of planning and management activity.