An ambitious wildlife conservation project to reinstate the UK’s smallest butterfly back onto the western coast of Scotland has been launched by the Ayrshire Sustainability Group. Stretching from Irvine in the north, to Girvan in the south, the project aims to create a semi-continuous corridor of Kidney Vetch along with other native wild flower species in which the Small Blue butterfly and the many other pollinating invertebrates that inhabit Ayrshire can thrive.
The Small Blue (Cupido minimus) is the UK’s smallest resident butterfly. With a wingspan often not exceeding 16mm, its small size makes it vulnerable to local climatic and habitat changes. Although it is classed as not threatened, the Small Blue’s status throughout the UK is declining, with the main colonies being located in the south of England and northwest of Scotland where its only food plant, Kidney Vetch, grows within calcareous grasslands and coastal sand dune systems.
The conservation project, which is being supported by seven Ayrshire golf clubs, local businesses and the Scottish Wildlife Trust, has been implemented following the release of a colony of Small Blue butterflies at Gailes Marsh Reserve adjacent to Dundonald Links. It is hoped that by increasing Kidney Vetch at each of the participating sites, this isolated colony will be able to expand and establish itself along the coastline once again.
“The Small Blue was last seen in Ayrshire in 1982,” explains Bob Taylor, Senior Consultant Ecology & Environment at the Sports Turf Research Institute (STRI). “As such, the Group was keen to see the re-establishment of these iconic butterflies across Ayrshire and hopes that last year’s release at Gailes Marsh, and this year’s planned release at Dundonald Links will enable the species to expand along the coastline once again.”
Key to establishing a viable population is the creation and management of good quality, varied grasslands that provide shelter for the adults and where early successional conditions are appropriate for the establishment of Kidney Vetch.
“By working with other golf courses and local companies, we hope to establish a chain of connected environments which will enable the initial colony to thrive and expand,” explains Amanda Dorans, Greenkeeper at Dundonald Links. “The success of the project was dependent on finding a source of high quality Kidney Vetch seed, and we are pleased to have been supported by Germinal who donated enough seed to create a suitable environment at the Dundonald Links and Royal Troon.”
Gill Smart, Local Reserves Manager for the Scottish Wildlife Trust observed: “Progress with the Small Blue would have been impossible without the enthusiasm, knowledge and good contact within our Sustainability Group. The Small Blue butterfly would literally get nowhere without the willingness of Ayrshire’s links courses to sow and care for Kidney Vetch.”
Steve Isaac, Director – Golf Course Management at The R&A commented: “The Small Blue project is an important piece of collaborative work which demonstrates how golf can drive other businesses to deliver environmental and social benefits to communities. The R&A is delighted to support this project and we look forward to seeing the results of habitat restoration to encourage the recovery of local populations of the Small Blue butterfly.”
Speaking on behalf of Germinal, Alistair Eccles, Technical Sales Representative for Germinal in Scotland explained that Kidney Vetch is very short-lived and a poor competitor.
“It is however an essential part of creating the right environment to support the full life-cycle of the Small Blue,” he said. “The successful establishment of a habitat rich with Kidney Vetch requires open ground conditions, a lack of competition and quality seed of a known local provenance. We were therefore delighted to be able to support the conservation project, and look forward to keeping up to date with the colony’s progress as it hopefully spreads along the Ayrshire coast.”