Scotland

Volunteer appeal to save Scotland's smallest butterfly

Small Blue Butterfly Image copyright Butterfly Conservation Scotland
Image caption It is hoped the appeal will help to conserve the Small Blue butterfly population

Nature enthusiasts are being asked to spend this week helping Scotland's smallest butterfly.

The Small Blue is rare in Scotland and urgent work is needed to help stabilise its population and provide the right habitat so it can spread to new areas.

Small Blue Butterfly Week is aimed at boosting the butterfly's numbers across Scotland.

Action is taking place in Angus, Aberdeenshire, Moray, Irvine, Caithness and the Borders.

Conservationists have said that at almost all sites the Small Blue is only just hanging on, sometimes in colonies of a few dozen adults.

Small Blue Butterfly Week is organised by wildlife charity Butterfly Conservation Scotland along with the Tayside Biodiversity Action Group.

They are asking volunteers to help look for the adults and its eggs at known sites.

'Shrinking habitat'

Surveys will also take place to help identify any potential new breeding sites for the Small Blue.

The Small Blue butterfly can be seen flying from mid-May to late June. Colonies are confined to small patches of grassland where Kidney Vetch grows - this is the only plant the caterpillars can eat.

Although the butterfly would formerly have occupied farmland, modern agriculture rarely allows plants such as Kidney Vetch to thrive.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Kidney Vetch is only plant the butterfly's caterpillars can eat

In the recent past, man-made brownfield habitats such as limestone quarries and disused railways provided a good habitat but most have now overgrown or have been reclaimed for other uses.

The Small Blue is on the Scottish Biodiversity List - a list of animals, plants and habitats that Scottish ministers consider to be of principal importance for biodiversity conservation.

Most colonies in Scotland are now found on sand dunes and other coastal grasslands and sand dunes, with only two or three inland sites remaining.

The Small Blue is much darker in appearance than Scotland's most widespread blue butterfly, the Common Blue. In contrast, the upper wings of the Small Blue are almost black with a light dusting of blue scales.

Paul Kirkland, of Butterfly Conservation Scotland, said: "We are really thrilled at the enthusiasm for Small Blue Week and the work carried out between May 27 and 4 June will inform habitat management that will be carried out in the autumn by landowners and volunteers to help the butterfly.

"Many areas occupied by the Small Blue have shrunk in size, are surrounded by inhospitable habitat and are threatened by scrub encroachment, so it's vital we do this work to secure the butterfly's future."

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