Endangered butterfly returns to north Hampshire for the first time in 20 years

© Rich Hennessey

An ambitious project to reintroduce one of Britain’s most threatened butterflies to north Hampshire has hit a successful milestone with the release of larvae onto a site in the north of the county.

The marsh fritillary is one of our most bright and beautiful butterflies, and was once found across large areas of Britain. However like many pollinators, the species suffered from years of habitat loss and degradation, and locally went extinct two decades ago.

However with the generous support of HIWWT and Butterfly Conservation members, the Farnborough Airport Community Environmental Fund, the Ministry of Defence and the John Spedan Lewis Foundation, and by working with local experts from the Hampshire Marsh Fritillary Action Group (HMFAG), a project is underway to use healthy populations from elsewhere in the UK to reintroduce the marsh fritillary to suitable Trust-managed sites in north Hampshire.

Marsh fritillary larvae feeding March 2017

© Andy Barker

A two year captive breeding and release programme formally began in September 2016, with the careful collection of 300 marsh fritillary caterpillars under licence from Natural England from several strong colonies in Dartmoor, Devon. They were later transferred to experienced local breeders who nurtured the caterpillars as they grew, pupated, emerged as butterflies and laid eggs. The end of April saw the successful release of a generation of marsh fritillary larvae onto a Trust-managed meadow complex in north Hampshire.

The butterflies have emerged, representing the first time the species has been seen in the wild in north Hampshire for two decades. Conservationists hope to see the remaining larvae successfully mature and re-establish a strong new marsh fritillary colony.

Read more about the Marsh Fritillary project.