The Large Heath butterfly, coming from the Nymphalidae family, was historically found in the north of the British Isles, usually in Lancashire, although some sightings in even South of Orkney. It’s habitat being the total opposite of the insect’s closest relative, the Small Heath Butterfly (found it grassland and dry spots), the large kind settle in boggy areas and moss covered land, no doubt a fast approaching rarity in the UK. Unsurprisingly then, that up until now the Large Heath butterfly has been extinct from Lancashire and a large part of Northern England for a century.
A study in 2012 showed the Large Heath population had decreased by 50% in the UK in the last 30 years. The insect’s biggest threat being loss of habitat, largely related to the UK’s boggy areas and moorlands declining heavily. Not only this, but caterpillars struggling to survive the UK’s unpredictable weather, especially harsh winters have contributed to the near loss of this rare UK native species.
Sightings dwindled into low single figures, habitats changing from global warming etc. meant that something had to be done or this species would be lost forever. Luckily, conservation stepped in at the right time.
The relevance of this article being that in 2013, experts at Chester Zoo launched a program to reintroduce the species back into their original habitat and have just announced at the end of last month they would be doing so for the third year in a row in 2016. How is conservation of these creatures achieved? The herpetology department have kept the Large Heaths regular in pods, creating the ideal environment for successful egg laying, checking and helping the caterpillars through their fragile pupation period to be released. Also, ensuring they have the right habitat for survival.
Each year this has payed off, the butterflies are released at Heysham Moss Nature Reserve in Lancashire, where a population of the Large Heath has thankfully established itself. This is a success for everyone who is involved and invested in protecting UK insects and a credit to wildlife conservationists. Having saved a species that was on the very edge of extinction, correction, WAS extinct in many areas of Britain is a huge achievement and an initiative worth congratulating. The progress of the Large Heath will continue being monitored until 2020, by this time is it almost a guarantee that the Large Heath will be a near thriving species once again.
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