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Habitat restoration scheme to save threatened butterfly

Conservationists hope efforts to develop lowland heath and woodland pasture will reverse declines of the high brown fritillary.

Almost 150 acres of natural habitat is being restored in a bid to save the UK’s most endangered butterfly, the National Trust said.

The high brown fritillary has seen its populations decline by two thirds since the 1970s, due to changes in the way woodlands are managed and more recently because marginal hill land has been abandoned.

Conservationists also warn that climate change and nitrogen pollution are likely to be contributing to the butterfly’s struggling fortunes.

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High brown fritillary numbers have fallen 66% since the 1970s (Matthew Oates/National Trust Images/PA)

The National Trust is planning to develop 60 hectares (150 acres) of lowland heath and wood pasture – the high brown fritillary’s main habitat – along the Exmoor and north Devon coast, to give it a chance for the future.

The Trust has been working in the Heddon Valley, one of the high brown fritillary’s remaining strongholds, with partners including Butterfly Conservation for years to save the butterfly.

The new £100,000 project will focus on restoring parts of the natural landscape along the coast.

The scheme, part of a £750,000 award from the People’s Postcode Lottery, will also benefit other wildlife including heath fritillary butterflies, nightjars and Dartford warblers, the Trust said.

Matthew Oates, National Trust nature expert, said: “We’ve witnessed a catastrophic decline of many native butterfly populations in recent decades but initiatives like this can really help to turn the tide.

“Combined with increased recording and monitoring efforts, there is significant hope for some of our most threatened winged insects.”

Jenny Plackett, Butterfly Conservation’s senior regional officer, said: “Exmoor’s Heddon Valley supports the strongest population of high brown fritillary in England, but even here the butterfly remains at risk, and ongoing efforts to restore habitat and enable the butterfly to expand are crucial to its survival.”

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Heddon Valley, Devon, is one of the high brown fritillary's remaining strongholds (Chris Lacey/National Trust Images/PA)

The £750,000 funding will also support other National Trust conservation work including restoring grasslands and wildflower meadows along the north Pembrokeshire coast, helping birds including chough and measures to manage woodlands and monitor and help bats in the South Downs.

Clara Govier, head of charities at the People’s Postcode Lottery, said: “We are delighted to see players’ funding supporting significant conservation activity across England and Wales to improve a range of priority habitats, from coastal slopes and chalk grasslands, to woodland pasture, and to safeguard species that call these places home.”

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