Page last updated at 11:31 GMT, Tuesday, 23 June 2009 12:31 UK
Rare butterfly visits Prees Heath
Silver studded blue butterflies
This rare butterfly can be seen until August (Photo: Stephen Lewis)

Prees Heath nature reserve, near Whitchurch, is celebrating the return of its most famous inhabitant.

The North Shropshire site is the only location in the Midlands where the silver studded blue butterfly survives.

The attractive butterfly can still be found in parts of the south, but is a rare sight in central and northern Britain.

Visitors are expected to be able to see the silver studded blue at Prees Heath until the beginning of August.

Numbers of the species have declined sharply over recent years due to a loss habitat. A combination of intensive farming and housing have encroached on the silver studded blue's preferred heathland habitat.

The 60-hectare nature reserve occupies the western half of Prees Heath Common. The reserve has been owned and managed by Butterfly Conservation since 2006, thanks to the work of local campaigners.

During World War II the common was used as a bomber airfield, and the control tower can still be seen. After the war it was intensively farmed, and agriculture remained until the start of the 21st Century.

The fate of the silver studded blue butterfly is largely due to two specific characteristics. They are a docile species and prefer not to fly far, which prevents them from naturally re-colonising suitable habitats.

They also depend on ant colonies - caterpillars are tended by the ants and in return produce a sweet, honey-like liquid for them to feed on. Chambers of ant nests are also used to house the chrysalises, from which the butterflies emerge.

The silver studded blue butterfly emerges in mid June and can be seen on site until the beginning of August. The reserve is also home to many other species of butterflies and other wildlife.

It can be accessed via a track off the A49 between Prees and Whitchurch, opposite the turning for Steel Heath. The paths are reasonably level, but uneven terrain makes it unsuitable for wheelchairs.




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