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The Wood White, one of the UK’s rarest woodland butterflies, has been recorded in ‘exceptional’ numbers this year at the Forestry Commission managed Chiddingfold Forest on the Surrey-Sussex boundary according to a survey by Butterfly Conservation.
This success comes as a result of favourable weather and the Forestry Commission’s ancient and native woodland restoration programme. Conifer harvesting and corridor enhancements have changed the shape of the woodland complex dramatically.
Targeted conservation management and the creation of open space through recent timber harvesting operations around the core butterfly egg laying areas has helped increase the population of Wood White.
The challenge in future years will be to ensure the butterfly spreads beyond the Forestry Commission estate into the wider woodlands and re-establishes itself at a landscape scale.
At the same time the Forestry Commission has achieved great success with the Pearl Bordered Fritillary at Abbots Wood in East Sussex this year, where more than 250 butterflies were spotted in woodland corridors, along pathways and across open spaces from the heart of the forest to the outer edges.
The lesson learned from this success will be used to inform the future conservation work at Chiddingfold Forest and elsewhere across the country. These projects are significant in holting the decline of these rare species in 2010, the International Year of Biodiversity.
Dan Hoare, Senior Regional Officer for Butterfly Conservation in South East England, said:
“These projects are pivotal to the success of this butterfly’s conservation in the future. It has given us new hope that we can reverse the declines, and it’s brilliant that organisations are working together across the country to share conservation techniques. The Forestry Commission has shown that both modern forestry and traditional woodland management can support this threatened species.”
Butterflies have used the favourable sunny weather to take advantage of the Forestry Commission’s carefully targeted management of the forest landscape. The Wood White is now thriving in the open spaces that have been created by felling trees to provide sustainable timber for British industry.
The ever changing mosaic of open space within the woodland that is linked by the internal corridors along forest roads and rides provides warm and dry conditions necessary for butterfly larvae to grow and an ample source of flowers and nectar during the summer months.
Once considered to be a flagship species of British woodland, the Wood White used to be widespread and abundant in the woodlands of Southern England, following the trail of the woodcutter’s axe. They have been in steep decline for decades, as a direct result of a lack of forest management.
Jay Doyle, Ecologist for the Forestry Commission in South East England said:
“The decline of forest management across the British landscape is the single biggest issue affecting woodlands and their biodiversity. Steps are now being taken to address this, typified by the success at Chiddingfold Forest. A growing demand for woodfuel as part of our commitment to renewable energy may well revitalise forestry and woodland management and deliver a brighter future for woodland wildlife such as the pearl-bordered fritillary.”
NOTES TO EDITOR
Forestry Commission England’s mission is to protect and expand England’s forests and woodlands and increase their value to society and the environment. Further details for the Forestry Commission and its work can be viewed at:
The Forestry Commission in South East England manage some 22,000 hectares of forest and woodland including a network of nationally important wildlife sites and part of the European designated Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area. 33 forest blocks on the public forest estate in South East England have been identified as being ‘priority’ sites for butterflies and moths.
Lepidoptera on Forestry Commission Land in England Conservation Strategy 2007 – 2017: this conservation strategy is an agreement between Forestry Commission England and Butterfly Conservation. Forestry Commission England has agreed to manage the Public Forest Estate to encourage and support butterflies and moths and in turn Butterfly Conservation will monitor species populations and provide encouragement, management advice and support. Both organisations will strive towards achieving favourable conservation status and butterflies and moths identified in the Strategy across the Priority Sites on the Forestry Commission England Estate. A network of priority sites have been identified where conservation effort can be targeted over the 10-year duration of the strategy. Further details of the joint strategy can be found via the link below:
Woodfuel is wood that can be burnt to generate heat or electricity. It can be a clean, sustainable, low-carbon form of renewable fuel. Woodfuel comes in three main forms – logs, chips and pellets of compressed sawdust. The Forestry Commission website contains further information on woodfuel at the following link:
The Pearl-bordered Fritillary was once widespread in Britain, but has been lost from much of central and southern England and continues to decline across its range, largely due to the abandonment of traditional woodland management. Its population has declined by more than 70% over the last thirty years, and it is a Priority Species for conservation action under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan.
Butterfly Conservation is the largest insect conservation charity in Europe with nearly 15,000 members in the UK. Its aim is the conservation of butterflies, moths and their habitats. It runs conservation programmes on over 60 threatened species of butterfly and moth and manages over 30 nature reserves. Further information www.butterfly-conservation.org