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Cattle to help rare butterflies on Lydlinch Common
A marsh fritillary butterfly on a buttercup. Copyright of Jim Asher.
'Dorset is a stronghold' for the 'incredibly rare' marsh fritillary butterfly

Cattle have been put out to graze on Lydlinch Common, near Sturminster Newton, to help protect the rare marsh fritillary butterfly.

The aim is to help improve the habitat for the common's "nationally important" colony.

In recent years, the common has been disappearing under scrub and encroaching woodland.

The problem started in the early 1970s when the area was no longer used to graze livestock.

This activity, along with occasional cutting and burning, had up until then kept the common open, providing habitat suitable for a wide range of grassland and scrub species - including the marsh fritillary butterfly.

In the intervening years volunteers from the Butterfly Conservation Dorset Branch have been working to keep enough damp grassland free of scrub, to enable the marsh fritillary butterflies to survive.

'Incredibly rare'

Cattle on Lydlinch Common. Copyright of Bernadette Noake.
Cattle grazing is a 'positive step' for the future of the common

Caroline Bulman is the senior species ecologist for Butterfly Conservation.

She said: "Marsh fritillary butterflies are incredibly rare.

"They're one of the most rapidly declining species in this country and are the only UK species which is threatened across Europe, and is protected under the European habitat and species directive.

"Dorset is a stronghold for the the species, which is generally found in the South West of England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland and continental Europe.

"Butterfly Conservation are doing work nationally to protect the species by helping to restore habitats.

"Lydlinch Common is one of several sites around Sturminster Newton which are particularly important because they have damp grassland, which proves popular with marsh fritillary butterflies."

Re-introducing cattle

In order to ensure the butterfly colony's long-term survival at Lydlinch Common, five years ago plans to restore the common by clearing dense thorn and young trees were agreed by landowners Stock Gaylard Estate, supported financially by Natural England, the government's nature conservation agency.

A marsh fritillary butterfly. Copyright of Jim Asher.
Marsh fritillary butterflies have a 'checkered wing pattern'

Following public consultation and the securing of permission to fence the common, it has now become possible to re-introduce cattle grazing - which began on May 27 2010.

Andrew Langmead, of the Stock Gaylard Estate, said: "The introduction of cattle grazing is a positive step forward for the future of the common.

"It's been a fun and interesting challenge to balance all the different interests, from butterflies to nightingales [the work is also being carried out to protect the nightingale bird], but the grazing and browsing by the cattle will help to maintain and enhance this."

If you want to spot a marsh fritillary butterfly, Caroline explained what to look for.

She said: "They are absolutely beautiful butterflies with a checkered wing pattern of vibrant orange, cream and brown.

"And they have a wingspan of about 3 cm."

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