Rare Butterfly Delights in Blackthorn Blossom

PUBLISHED: 12:09 10 March 2008 | UPDATED: 08:53 10 June 2010

As blackthorn hedges begin to turn into drifts of beautiful white flowers across the South West, Natural England welcomes the first signs of spring and the caterpillar of the rare brown hairstreak butterfly, which is preparing for a feast.

As blackthorn hedges begin to turn into drifts of beautiful white flowers across the South West, Natural England welcomes the first signs of spring and the caterpillar of the rare brown hairstreak butterfly, which is preparing for a feast.

Marjory Taylor, Natural England's ecologist said: "We work with farmers and other land managers, providing advice and payments under the Environmental Stewardship Scheme. Encouraging hedgerow trimming on a rotational basis through these schemes benefits this rare butterfly, other wildlife and the landscape as a whole. This type of sensitive management makes for stunning spring time displays and a mass of blackthorn flowers. The more flowers we see the more sloes, the fruit of the blackthorn, are available for birds such as blackbirds, thrushes and fieldfares.''

The rare brown hairstreak butterfly relies solely upon the blackthorn to support its life cycle, from egg to wing. At this time of year the butterfly's eggs are tucked in the forks of the branches waiting for the blossom to fall. Shortly after the blossom the leaves unfurl and the pale green larvae wiggle out to feed.

From late July the butterflies emerge and spend much of their time in and among treetops, hedges and the edge of woodlands. They are usually seen with their wings closed showing golden brown underwings with two thin white lines on each wing and small orange tails.

Marjory Taylor continued: ''We are lucky to have almost 40% of one of England's rarest butterflies living in the South West. The brown hairstreak was once widespread across England but the population has declined over the years as we have lost much of the woodland and hedgerows that it relies upon. The butterfly relies heavily on blackthorn for its life cycle. Annual hedge trimming cuts off both the eggs and the egg laying sites so the most important thing we can do to stop the decline in their numbers is to encourage more farmers to trim only some of their hedges each year. The Environmental Stewardship Scheme can pay farmers to do this.

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