Tyne & Wear

Sphagnum moss theft risk to endangered butterflies

Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary Image copyright PA
Image caption Small Pearl-bordered Fritilliary butterfly numbers are in decline

Endangered butterflies in County Durham have been put at risk by the theft of a large amount of the moss which forms part of their natural habitat.

More than 50 bags of rare sphagnum moss was taken from Burnhill Nature Reserve.

Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary butterfly caterpillars feed on the marsh violet that grows amongst it.

A spokesman for the Durham Wildlife Trust said the moss would probably be sold for use in hanging baskets and urged people buying any to be vigilant.

Dave Liddle said: "We won't know how badly it is going to affect the butterfly numbers until they start to appear, but in the last 50 years the species has declined by 93%.

"You get used to knock backs but this is a particularly distressing one as its happened in the life cycle of the butterfly, a lot of people have put a lot of work into the project."

Durham Constabulary said the theft was not something the force had ever come across before.

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