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THE MARSH FRITILLARY IN CUMBRIA
  • This stunningly beautiful butterfly was just managing to hang on at one or two colonies in the Lakeland area (the only Marsh Fritillary sites between Anglesey in Wales and Islay in Scotland) but by 2005 none were reported, suggesting it had become extinct. Massive declines in populations throughout Europe make this the only butterfly in the U.K. to gain protection under the E.U. Habitats and Species Directive.
  • After the Second World War there were over 200 colonies in north Cumbria from Ennerdale to Penrith. Colonies from the Solway Mosses, Ennerdale and Eskdale have long since gone. The butterfly was once abundant just 3 km west of Carlisle in the meadows around Orton Woods and a few km further west at Finglandrigg Wood.
  • The remaining colonies were so isolated that efforts to improve the habitat had no beneficial effect because there was no mixing between colonies and in-breeding led to low fertility and weak specimens.
  • Fortunately in 2004 it was realised that the last remaining colony was under threat (there were only two larval webs) and 168 larvae were removed under licence for captive breeding.
  • A further 80 larvae were added to these under licence from several strong colonies in Argyll, Scotland; tests showed these were most genetically similar to the Cumbrian race.
  • After successive years of breeding over 70,000 larvae were released back to four prepared sites, again under licence.
  • All but one of the sites in Cumbria are on private land. The only accessible site is Finglandrigg NNR between Kirkbampton and Kirkbride on the Solway Plain. This wardened site is being used to provide an opportunity for members of the public to see this terrific species. At the car park (map ref NY 283572) follow the butterfly trail about a mile through the wood until you come to an open area through a gate with a sign.
  • The Marsh Fritillary is predominantly a species of damp unimproved grassland on the western side of Britain; its food plant is Devil's-bit Scabious (although it will use Honeysuckle when pressed). The peak flight time in Cumbria is usually the first two or three weeks of June.
  • The larvae overwinter in webs but need direct sunlight in spring - they like to bask in the warmth as an aid to digestion (don't we all!).
  • Bad, particularly wet, weather at critical times (and for several years in succession) affects the success of the species.
  • The full life cycle of the species takes twelve months; the change from ugly caterpilar to beautiful butterfly takes just over three weeks and is one of the wonders of nature (see photos above and below).
PHOTO GALLERY OF THE LIFE CYCLE