Banking on Butterflies

Duke of Burgundy butterfly by Eglė Vičiuvienė

A pioneering project looking at creating new habitat banks for butterflies is now possible thanks to funding via the People’s Postcode Lottery Nature Based Solutions Fund

The Banking on Butterflies project links Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire working collaboratively with the University of Cambridge Zoology dept, looking at mitigating impacts of climate change for temperature sensitive butterflies. Topographical features (banks) will be created in Bedfordshire chalk grassland providing suitable niches to help butterflies including the small blue, the chalkhill blue, and the nationally rare Duke of Burgundy.

The project is one of 12 Wildlife Trust projects across the country which will help the UK achieve its ambition of reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050, now in development thanks to almost £2 million in funding raised by players of People’s Postcode Lottery Nature Based Solutions Fund.

The four novel habitat structures are going to be constructed on chalk grassland at Bedfordshire's Totternhoe and Pegsdon nature reserves in September, and the study will look in detail at how man-made sheltered and unsheltered banks can provide a range of micro habitats and microclimates to benefit a wide variety of species in a changing climate. This is pioneering research being the first experiment looking at the effectiveness of bank design in relation to mitigating the effects of climate change. Researchers will record and analyse data to determine the success of the scheme, which could then be mirrored at other sites. Protecting and boosting the abundance of insects is central to restoring functioning ecosystems, which are so critical to tackling the climate crisis, read more on the project, bottom left.

The project builds on previous collaborative studies investigating microhabitats for butterflies on Wildlife Trust nature reserves. From this research, the team have a detailed understanding of which types of habitat features are important to butterflies. The next step is to design and test features providing microhabitats with different climatic conditions. As the climate changes, other factors may become more important – for example cooler, north-facing areas may potentially provide greater protection from higher temperatures. The creation of habitat features can also help the movement of wildlife through the landscape - improved connectivity can prevent species becoming trapped in dwindling pockets of suitable habitat. 

The proposed banks have been designed to provide a variety of conditions and degrees of shelter that will be studied over several years, and results from careful monitoring will enable these expert conservationists to improve habitat management and to better advise others on creating similar features. 

Complementing this four identical banks will be built at Pegsdon nature reserve, funded by the Cambridge Conservation Initiative (CCI) who have awarded a knowledge-exchange PhD student for work researching chalk grassland butterflies. 

The project's specific outputs are: 

  • Building four topographical features in chalk grassland, providing sheltered and exposed slopes and different microclimates
  • Clearing a large area of scrub in an existing gully to expose a new area of sheltered chalk grassland, providing additional microhabitats for a range of specialist species. Existing grassy gullies are known to be of particular importance to butterflies, especially the rare Duke of Burgundy.  
  • Build dataset of the microhabitats, microclimates and butterflies using them: these data will be analysed to determine which features are most beneficial for species conservation with predicted climate change effects. 
  • Produce a clear, practical guide for others on the creation and monitoring of similar habitat features.  
  • Communicate the benefits of this work to a wide audience, developing a legacy for the continuation of the project and rollout at other sites.