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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
successive years of breeding over 70,000 larvae were released
back to four prepared sites, again under licence.
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.
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.
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!).
particularly wet, weather at critical times (and for several
years in succession) affects the success of the species.
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).