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Large heath

The large heath is a Species of Conservation Concern in Britain. In recent years, there has been a dramatic decline throughout England and Wales. The main stronghold in England is Northumberland, with 156 recorded sites, 74% of the total for England and Wales.

Name

Large heath (Coenonympha tullia)

Lifestyle

Habitat

The large heath lives in fairly sedentary colonies and rarely leaves its preferred bog habitat. The species occurs locally in Wales, northern England and southern Scotland, and is more widespread in northern Scotland.

Breeding

Large heath breed in lowland raised bogs, upland blanket bogs and damp acidic moorland, where food supplies are plentiful.

Development

Caterpillars hibernate over-winter, and hatch (pupate) in the spring. Adult butterflies fly between June and early August.

Diet

Caterpillars feed on hare's-tail cottongrass. Adult butterflies feed on the nectar from cross-leaved heath flowers.

Threats

Wet moorland and bog habitats are increasingly being lost through peat extraction, tree planting, drainage and agricultural improvement. The large heath depends of this type of habitat and as a result it is very vulnerable to extinction. Heavy grazing by sheep also impacts on the breeding areas of the large heath.

Identification

The large heath is a dingy orange/brown colour with dark spots on the upper and lower wings.

How we manage our woods

The Forestry Commission, working in partnership with Butterfly Conservation, is making sure that existing colonies of large heath are protected through conservation and sympathetic management and conservation of bog habitat. In Kielder Forest, Northumberland, large areas of bog and mire are being restored through large-scale conifer removal projects. This will increase the area and quality of habitat for the large heath butterfly. 

What's of interest

The numbers of large heath butterflies in bogs and mires gives us information about the quality of these habitats.

Useful sites

England's Woods and Forests are cared for by Forest Enterprise England, an agency of the Forestry Commission.