06 18/06/2014

Rare butterfly returns to the wild

A butterfly missing from a Lancashire nature reserve for more than 100 years is making a comeback.

Large heath butterfly

The rare species – known as the large heath butterfly - is being reintroduced to Heysham Moss thanks to a project involving Chester Zoo, Lancashire Wildlife Trust and funder Lancashire Environmental Fund.

Large heath butterflies were last recorded at the site at the beginning of the 20th century. However a new breeding programme, which began last year when a small number of adult females from a donor site at Winmarleigh where a healthy population of the butterflies still exist, were taken to the zoo. And under the guidance of the zoo’s experts, the butterflies were bred under controlled conditions and are now being released as adult butterflies onto Heysham Moss.

The zoo’s biodiversity officer Sarah Bird said:

“We’re excited to be able to support this project financially and particularly thrilled to be able to use zoo expertise and facilities to help restore large heath butterflies to Heysham Moss.

“It has been fascinating to follow the life cycle of this rare butterfly at the zoo and we’re extremely pleased that the pupae we have so carefully reared are now hatching at Heysham Moss, their new home.”

The Wildlife Trust’s North Lancashire Reserves manager Reuben Neville added:

“After a year of anticipation and the first phase of the project now completed, seeing the first large heath butterflies flying again on our reserve has been incredibly exciting and a credit to the zoo staff who have nurtured them over the past year.

“The large heath butterfly was formerly much more widespread in North West England, inhabiting lowland raised bog and occasionally blanket bog habitats. Now extinct in Cheshire, Greater Manchester and Merseyside, it hangs on in just two widely separated sites in Lancashire.

“Now with funding from the Lancashire Environmental Fund and project partners Chester Zoo it is hoped to re-establish a sustainable population at Heysham.”

Since the Wildlife Trust purchased Heysham Moss in 2004 extensive habitat management work has been undertaken and it is now considered sufficient to support a population of large heath butterflies.

Large heath butterfly