Bramble, Bracken and Butterflies – Working Together to Protect Hurscombe’s Fritillaries

Our reservoirs and lakes across the South West are no strangers to a wealth of rich wildlife and habitats. From lush grasslands to scrub and wet woodlands, they are home to bats, birds and bugs alike. The South West’s lakes are a hub of colour and activity throughout all the seasons and our largest lake on Exmoor, Wimbleball, is no exception.

Boasting a variety of special wildlife hotspots, visitors to Wimbleball can expect to find a range of wildfowl as well as mammalian varieties such as hedgehogs, weasels and if you are lucky (and quiet!) the iconic Exmoor red deer. But as spring fast approaches, flashes of patterned wings and the twitch of antenna become a more regular sight around the lake as the butterflies begin to take flight!

One particularly special butterfly species found at Wimbleball is the Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary, Boloria selene. This small orange and brown butterfly can be identified by several white pearl markings on the hind wings bordered by black chevrons and is found flying from late May to mid-June around the northern arm of the lake within Hurscombe Nature Reserve. Hurscombe is a protected area that possesses damp, grassy regions as well as woodland clearings plentiful with bramble and bracken, making perfect habitat for the Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary. Combined with the presence of violet species such as Common Dog-violet and Marsh violets which play an important role acting as the larval foodplant for the Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary, managing this vital habitat at Hurscombe is a priority for the countryside team on Exmoor to protect and allow the colonies of butterflies here to thrive. Read more about the species on the Butterfly Conservation website.

Along with Butterfly Conservation and the Exmoor National Park Authority, we hosted a work party day in January which saw around 20 dedicated volunteers swap their left-over Christmas chocolates for bow saws and loppers and head to Hurscombe with an aim to clear blackthorn and help extend the range of suitable habitats available for the Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries. By removing and burning the blackthorn it is hoped this will allow the violets, bracken and bramble from neighbouring patches to spread further whilst also enabling more light into the habitat which creates warmer, sheltered conditions ideal for Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries. The day was a superb achievement with a vast area of blackthorn cleared thanks to the great turnout of help.

So, what’s next? In order to monitor whether the efforts of managing this habitat and other areas around Wimbleball have been successful, conducting butterfly surveys in the form of timed counts and transects will be key. These will allow us to collect data about the butterflies such as how many individuals are seen, when are they seen, where are they seen and what environmental conditions affect their occurrence. The information collected from these surveys can then be used to inform future management and conserve our colonies of beautiful butterflies around Wimbleball for many years to come. Nationally, Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary butterflies have declined in abundance by 58% since the 1970’s, a devastating statistic that we would not know were it not for surveying and all the more reason to protect these brilliant British butterflies.

With the fantastic support from Megan Lowe and the All the Moor Butterflies project, we are looking to run a survey workshop in May to train volunteers and anyone interested in butterflies on how to complete these vital surveys so that we can gather this critical data, whilst passing on knowledge and enthusiasm to inspire the next generation of butterfly conservationists.

For those interested in this excellent opportunity, please contact Countryside Warden, Lucy Alford at LAlford@swlakestrust.org.uk to express your interest and for more details that will come in the next few months.

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