Butterfly back from extinction

A Large Heath butterfly.
A Large Heath butterfly.

A rare butterfly missing from a Heysham nature reserve for more than 100 years has made a comeback.

The Large Heath butterfly has been released back into the reserve a century after its last recorded appearance.

Wildlife experts hope a population of the butterfly can now be sustained in Heysham.

A project to restore the butterfly, which is generally confined to boggy areas, began in 2013 with a captive breeding programme.

A small number of adult females from the donor site at Winmarleigh, which stills supports a healthy population, were taken to Chester Zoo.

Under the guidance of experts at the zoo, these butterflies have been bred under controlled conditions throughout their life cycle, and are now being released as adult butterflies onto Heysham Moss.

Extensive habitat management work has been carried out at Heysham since 2004, and the habitat is now considered sufficient to support a population of the Large Heath butterfly. This is thanks to sufficient amounts of tussocks of Hare’s Tail Cotton Grass Eriophorum vaginatum; the larval foodplant, and Cross-leaved Heath Erica tetralix; the main nectar source.

The project will continue with a further year of captive breeding, and a second release phase onto the reserve is planned in 2015.