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Are habitat changes driving the decline of the UK’s most threatened butterfly: the High Brown Fritillary Argynnis adippe (Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae)?

  • S. EllisEmail author
  • D. Wainwright
  • E. B. Dennis
  • N. A. D. Bourn
  • C. R. Bulman
  • R. Hobson
  • R. Jones
  • I. Middlebrook
  • J. Plackett
  • R. G. Smith
  • M. Wain
  • M. S. Warren
ORIGINAL PAPER

Abstract

We describe how a landscape-scale approach has been adopted to conserve the UK’s most threatened butterfly Argynnis adippe. Only 37 populations now remain, with 38 extinctions occurring since 1994 (51% loss). The butterfly has disappeared from most of England and Wales and is now confined to just four landscapes. Since 2005 management in these landscapes has been targeted at improving habitat quality within and connectivity between both occupied and unoccupied sites in the same networks. Conservation advice has been provided on 80% of occupied/former sites and over 270 ha management implemented across 53% of occupied/former sites. Where management was undertaken, significant increases in abundance compared to the national trend were recorded for some site networks or some populations. (Re)colonisations have occurred in response to management/advice on 16 sites, all within 1 km of the nearest population. However, responses to management in one landscape have been mixed, with overall abundance continuing to decline and further extinctions occurring. Habitat condition assessments on five sites in this landscape reveal significant changes between 2004 and 2016, with declines in Viola spp. cover, increased grassiness and less P. aquilinum litter/standing trash on some sites. We discuss potential drivers of both A. adippe population dynamics and habitat condition change. Our research suggests an urgent need to review the butterfly’s ecological requirements and current management recommendations designed to meet them, so that new prescriptions or techniques can be developed and tested which can increase the quality and longevity of A. adippe habitat.

Keywords

Lepidoptera Argynnis adippe Landscape-scale conservation Habitat condition change 

Notes

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Jim Asher for producing Fig. 1. The conservation management described in this paper would not have been possible without the generous financial or in-kind support of a whole range of organisations, landowners and volunteers including: Natural England, Countryside Council for Wales (now Natural Resources Wales) and the Welsh Government, Forestry Commission England, Environment Agency, three National Parks (Lake District, Dartmoor, Exmoor), Arnside and Silverdale AONB, two local authorities (Vale of Glamorgan County Borough Council, Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council), two Landfill Community Funds (GrantScape, SITA Trust), Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund, Heritage Lottery Fund, The Co-operative, three Wildlife Trusts (Cumbria, Lancashire, Devon), National Trust, RSPB, Friends of the Lake District, PONT, many private trusts (including Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, Vincent Wildlife Trust) and Butterfly Conservation Branches. We also thank the many volunteers who help with monitoring and attend conservation work parties.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare they have no conflict of interest.

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • S. Ellis
    • 1
    Email author
  • D. Wainwright
    • 1
  • E. B. Dennis
    • 1
  • N. A. D. Bourn
    • 1
  • C. R. Bulman
    • 1
  • R. Hobson
    • 1
  • R. Jones
    • 1
  • I. Middlebrook
    • 1
  • J. Plackett
    • 1
  • R. G. Smith
    • 1
  • M. Wain
    • 1
  • M. S. Warren
    • 1
  1. 1.Butterfly ConservationWarehamUK

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