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Back on our map

Duke of Burgundy (Hamearis lucina) © Andrew Cooper
Duke Of Burgundy butterfly © Andrew Cooper

Last week I spent the day helping out the Back On Our Map (BOOM) team, by planting cowslips at Gait Barrows nature reserve in Silverdale in order to re-establish habitat for the endangered Duke of Burgundy butterfly. Found only in England, the Duke of Burgundy has declined in numbers significantly since the 1970’s, now remaining in only a few strongholds in South Cumbria and the North York Moors.

Gait Barrows is an area where there has previously been a healthy population, however the numbers have declined here too due to disturbance to the limestone pavements which has caused changes to the vegetation in the area and climate change causing extreme weather conditions during the flight period.

Freshly planted cowslip © Bethany Dean

Cowslips are one of only two species of plant that the Duke of Burgundy will use to  lay their eggs on, hiding them on the underside of the leaves, which the caterpillars eat away at once they have emerged. The reserve management, BOOM staff and volunteers have been growing cowslips over the summer ready to plant in the autumn months.

The Duke of Burgundy butterfly is very particular about the location of the cowslips, preferring bunches of plants that are in tucked away in sunny areas usually backed by a rocky feature or tussocks of grass, which provides an amount of shelter from harsh weather and grazing animals. The cowslips planted will hopefully restore the loss of cowslips caused presumably during the limestone destruction.

Limestone pavements of Gait Barrows © Bethany Dean

Gait Barrows is a beautiful reserve, which is extremely diverse in habitats and the species it hosts. The reserve has expansive limestone pavements, which is home to an array of plants which inhibit the grikes and thrive in the micro-climates they provide. Ancient but miniature trees grow from the grikes, stunted in growth by the lack of nutrients in the rocky terrain, making this afascinating landscape.

In May the area will be monitored by the BOOM team for flying adult butterflies and the cowslips will be monitored in June and July for evidence of damage caused by the caterpillars, which make small round holes in the underside of the leaves. Damage by Duke of Burgundy caterpillars can be distinguished easily from other animals as they never damage the leaf veins. Fingers crossed there will be news of the presence of butterflies and caterpillars in the coming Spring and Summer!





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