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Butterfly thought extinct in NI spotted in Fermanagh

By Linda Stewart

A rare butterfly thought to have been extinct in Northern Ireland has been sighted for the first time in 16 years.

Surveyors from the NI Environment Agency spotted not just one, but seven Small Blue butterflies in a Co Fermanagh meadow.

The Small Blue - Cupido minimus - has only ever been recorded at one site in Northern Ireland, but hadn't been seen there since 2001. It is our rarest and most endangered butterfly and is listed as a 'Priority Species' for conservation action.

While it can be found in other parts of the UK and Ireland, it is undergoing a significant decline.

NIEA's Habitat Survey Team recorded no fewer than seven Small Blue butterflies on the wing in the meadow near Derrygonnelly on May 31.

They believe the high numbers are linked to the unusually warm weather, as Northern Ireland has enjoyed its warmest spring since records began.

The butterfly was first spotted by Bobbie Hamill while she was assessing the condition of the flower-rich plant communities in one of Northern Ireland's most important grassland Areas of Special Scientific Interest (ASSIs), just west of Derrygonnelly.

"Not only is the Small Blue our smallest butterfly, but unlike other members of its family, it is inconspicuous and can easily be overlooked," she said.

"Rather than blue, the upper wing is actually dull brown in colour, fringed by white hairs with a dusting of blue scales at their base and the underside is silver blue with dark speckles.

"In addition, at little more than 20mm, it is not surprising that these beautiful little butterflies are difficult to spot.

"We would especially like to commend the landowners and managers in the area for continuing to graze these special sites in a sustainable manner, creating the ideal conditions for plants to flourish and the Small Blue and other important invertebrates to breed. It is still possible that other colonies of this tiny butterfly are surviving in suitable quiet corners of Fermanagh and beyond, so be on the lookout."

Catherine Bertrand, head of butterfly conservation in Northern Ireland, said: "I cannot articulate how delighted we are that the Small Blue has been reconfirmed. 

"Our volunteers have revisited the site sporadically over the past 16 years since the butterfly was last seen with no success.  

"We genuinely believed it was extinct from Northern Ireland."

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