The status of the health fritillary butterfly Mellicta athalia Rott. in Britain


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An extensive survey was made of known and potential sites of the heath fritillary butterfly Melllicta athalia Rott. in Great Britain in 1980. The size of every colony found was measured and information obtained on its habitat preferences and larval foodplants. Details of all the sites that still support this butterfly are summarised and its habitat requirements are assessed.

The survey confirmed that the heath fritillary is probably the most endangered resident butterfly in Britain. It has declined severely in recent years and is now restricted to five sites in SW England and to three woodland blocks in E Kent. Thirty-one colonies were discovered (6 in the SW, 25 in Kent), but 24 of these contained fewer than 200 adults on the peak day. Moreover, several occurred close to larger populations and may only be offshoots that would not be viable on their own.
The heath fritillary has different habitat requirements in SW England and Kent, although in both regions it needs sunny sheltered woodland that is at an early stage of succession or regeneration. Such habitat is ephemeral and must be generated continuously within fairly small areas if it is to be utilised, for the butterfly rarely flies long distances. Nearly all documented extinctions have been caused by a loss of suitable habitat from the locality, for this is only occasionally created by most modern forms of silviculture. In Kent, the heath fritillary survives mainly in the ever-decreasing areas where traditional coppicing has continued, but the future of this practice is now in doubt. Few colonies survive in SW England, although some are now being managed specifically to safeguard the butterfly.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)287-305
Number of pages19
JournalBiological Conservation
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1984

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