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Last Updated: Friday, 30 July, 2004, 10:36 GMT 11:36 UK
Butterfly makes return to reserve
marsh fritillary butterfly
The marsh fritillary was once common across Britain and Europe
Conservationists in Devon are celebrating after a rare butterfly has flown back into a Devon nature reserve after an absence of at least 15 years.

A total of 20 marsh fritillary butterflies were counted in one day at the Devon Wildlife Trust's Vealand Farm nature reserve near Holsworthy.

The butterfly has also been seen in record numbers at other reserves.

Conservationists say it shows that with correct management of habitat, rare creatures can return and thrive again.

I didn't expect the marsh fritillary to come back
Gary Pilkington, Devon Wildlife Trust
The marsh fritillary was once common across Britain and Europe, but has been in sharp decline over the past century because of loss of habitat.

It is classed as a priority species in the UK's biodiversity action plan and its European threat status is listed as "vulnerable".

So the numbers spotted in Devon this summer have come as a pleasant surprise to conservationists.

The Devon Wildlife Trust reports record numbers at reserves including Volehouse Moor, Mambury Moor and Stowford Moor.

There have also been large numbers at Dunsdon national nature reserve.

Gary Pilkington of the trust said: "We took over at the Vealand reserve four or five years ago.

"With grassland, you need to graze it lightly and burn it sometimes during the winter.

"The field where the butterflies have returned hadn't been grazed or burned for years. But that's what we've done."

Culm grassland

The new style of field management led to a return of the plants which the butterfly caterpillars feed on.

Mr Pilkington sad: "I didn't expect the marsh fritillary to come back, to be honest.

"I've been told that they haven't been seen here for 28 years. The most conservative estimate is 10-15 years.

"It's fantastic news, and it's all down to the habitat - the culm grassland - which is also good for other insects and plants such as orchids."

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