Rare butterfly takes up residence on Steyning Downland Scheme

One of Britain’s rarest butterflies has finally taken up residence on the Steyning Downland Scheme again, after six years of hard work by volunteers.

Wednesday, 18th November 2020, 2:13 pm

The Duke of Burgundy butterfly had all but died out on the South Downs and certainly had not been seen on the Wiston Estate for decades before the £28,000 rescue project was launched in November 2014.

Working with the South Downs National Park Authority, the downland scheme wanted to bring back this dainty little butterfly from extinction and is now excited to be able to at last report that the Duke of Burgundy has taken up residence in Steyning.

The Duke is one of the UK’s rarest butterflies and is particularly fussy about where it sets up home. Numbers have crashed since the 1970s and only about 100 colonies remain.

Sarah Quantrill launches the Duke of Burgundy butterfly project on the Wiston Estate in November 2014. Picture: Stephen Goodger S44505H14

Sarah Quantrill has led the project with a team of enthusiastic volunteers. They opened up new areas of chalk grassland and, with the help of Wakehurst Place, grew the Duke’s favoured food from seed, planting out literally thousands of these cowslips and primroses out on the downland to attract the butterflies.

All the preparation work took two years to complete, then teams of trained volunteers began surveying the hills for butterflies, as well as carrying out essential ongoing habitat management.

After years of careful searching, it was not until spring this year that the first Duke made its appearance, spotted by butterfly expert and project adviser Neil Hulme.

The arrival had to be kept secret for a while, to protect the butterfly’s fragile habitat, but the downland scheme has now gone public and hopes to arrange a limited number of organised visits to see the Duke in action next year.

The Duke of Burgundy, a rare and dainty little butterfly

Although the Dukes would have been regulars on the downland scheme area hundreds of years ago, they had not been seen there since around the Second World War.

Mr Hulme was able to provide expert advice as he had previously been successful in seeing the Duke of Burgundy species return to Chantry Hill, about 15km west of the Steyning Downland Scheme.

A message from the Editor, Gary Shipton:

In order for us to continue to provide high quality and trusted local news, I am asking you to please purchase a copy of our newspapers.

With the coronavirus lockdown having a major impact on many of our local valued advertisers - and consequently the advertising that we receive - we are more reliant than ever on you helping us to provide you with news and information by buying a copy of our newspapers.

Our journalists are highly trained and our content is independently regulated by IPSO to some of the most rigorous standards in the world. But being your eyes and ears comes at a price. So we need your support more than ever to buy our newspapers during this crisis.

Stay safe, and best wishes.