How six Garstang butterflies helped make conservation dream come true

Six butterflies from a Lancashire mossland have played a key role in restoring the Manchester argus butterfly to its Mancunian homelands.

Wednesday, 10th June 2020, 4:36 pm

The six pregnant butterflies were collected from a surviving population of the rare butterfly at Winmarleigh Moss at Garstang last summer.

Also known as the large heath, the butterfly making its home on boggy peat habitats. But in the Victorian era much of Greater Manchester’s peatland was drained or had peat extracted causing the butterfly to disappear from the area.

A few pockets of damaged, but salvageable, peatland ecosystems remained, and the Lancashire Wildlife Trust, Natural England and other organisations in the Great Manchester Wetlands partnership have undertaken years of habitat restoration work to bring those peatlands back to their former glory.

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The first Manchester Argus butterfly pictured on Manchester's peatlands by Andy Hankinson

The super six butterflies from Winmarleigh were taken to Chester Zoo where they laid their eggs in a special breeding enclosure. These hatched into caterpillars and then their pupae were transported to a secret release site on one of Manchester’s restored peatlands. They recently hatched out - more than a century after the last Manchester argus flew over the Manchester peatlands.

The project saw Lancashire Wildlife Trust and Greater Manchester Wetlands project working together.

Heather Prince, part of a team of four specialist invertebrate keepers at Chester Zoo, said :“Breeding and rearing butterflies in an incredibly delicate process that requires a fine balance of conditions at each part of their lifecycle. Countless hours have been spent inside our specialised breeding centre nurturing the tiny eggs, rearing the larvae and caring for their host plants as well as monitoring their final pupation period.”

Alan Wright, Lancashire Wildlife Trust Campaigns Manager, was delighted to see some of the first butterflies emerging. He said: “Being out on the peatland for the reintroduction has been so exciting. I was lucky enough to see seven Manchester argus released over one lunchtime and that was just an amazing and quite emotional moment, but, later in the day, emotions were ramped up even higher when a butterfly emerged from its pupae while we were there.”

Manchester argus caterpillar at Chester Zoo (photo: Chester Zoo)

“This project has been planned for many years and for it to all come together in such a spectacularly successful fashion is a great credit to all our team and all our partners on the Great Manchester Wetlands Partnership. Some of them have not been here this week but they will get the same buzz when we move to other areas for future releases.

"These beautiful butterflies have not flown on this peatland for 150 years. They were here when Victoria was on the throne, but we lost them due to development and land management. They are a perfect example as to why we must tread lightly on the earth."

* For more information see: www.lancswt.org.uk/species-reintroduction and www.lancswt.org.uk/our-work/projects/peatland-restoration

Manchester argus pupa pictured at Chester Zoo (photo: Chester Zoo)
Alan Wright, Campaigns Manager, Lancashire Wildlife Trust
The butterflies' release enclosure (photo: Jenny Bennion)
Pupae pictured in the release enclosure (photo: Andy Hankinson)