Heath Fritillary

Tucked away on the Cornwall/Devon border, the tiny village of Luckett nestles at the bottom of a very long hill that drops from the heights of Kit Hill down to the depths of the River Tamar. This beautiful little spot on the frontier of the Cornish mainland is part of the Tamar Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty

 

A 10 minute stroll from the village car park heading southeast leads you to Greenscoombe Wood, home to one of Cornwall’s, and indeed Britian’s, rarest butterflies, the Heath Fritillary – Mellicta athalia. Here on the east facing slopes of the wooded valleys conservationists have worked hard to create clearings with the right vegetation mix to enable the Heath Fritillary to survive in the county.

 

 

 

 

Heath FritillaryDespite all the efforts of dedicated volunteers and the best intentions of the landowners & habitat managers the fight to maintain these vulnerable populations has not always met with success. Sadly the species became extinct here after 2002, but was reintroduced to parts of the woodland in the summer of 2006 and has since re-colonised & re-established itself.

 

I first visited this site way back in June 1984 on a field meeting organised by Cornwall Trust for Nature Conservation (now Cornwall Wildlife Trust) at a time when the Heath Fritillary was benefiting from extensive habitat management carried out by the Duchy of Cornwall & the Trust under the leadership of the reserve warden at the time, Charles Robbins. 25Common Cow Wheat years on and the 13th June found me returning to Luckett & Greenscoombe Woods where once again the  Heath Fritillary is responding well thanks to habitat management involving amongst others the Cornwall branch of Butterfly Conservation. Our guide for this field meeting was local expert on the species, Richard Vulliamy who soon had us in amongst over 20 adult Heath Fritillaries, enjoying the sunshine &  warmth at one of the clearings. The larval food plant Common Cow-wheat – Melampyrum pratense was also doing well thanks to the ongoing management of the site.

 The Heath Fritillaries were joined by a couple of Small Pearl Bordered Fritillaries - Boloria selene which have seemingly colonized the site naturally in recent years. The larger Brimstone Butterfly - Gonepteryx rhamni was also present, the lemon yellow of the male appears striking in flight but makes the insect difficult to see at rest, the sculpted edges of the wings looking very much like a leaf.

 

Broad Bodied ChaserIn one of the clearings with a grassier sward there were stands of Lesser Butterfly Orchids – Platanthera bifolia & Greater Butterfly Orchids - Platanthera chlorantha delicate creamy white species which appear to mix happily in a small area.

 

A handful of dragonflies & damselflies made use of the woodland rides to hunt for their insect prey & mature away from the pressures of the water’s edge, including an attractive young female Broad Bodied Chaser – Libellula depressa and a number of Beautiful Demoiselle – Calopteryx virgo.

Richard also pointed out a single Wild Service Tree – Sorbus torminalis a very rare tree in Cornwall. Frequently only single isolated specimens are found, often deep in the heart of old deciduous woodland.

Back at Luckett we went in search of Currant Clearwings at Richard’s allotment, using a lure, but while that particular mission ultimately proved unsuccessful we did find this striking Longhorn Beetle and a wandering White-legged Damselfly - Platycnemis pennipes, a speciality of the Tamar.Longhorn Beetle

 

If you would like to find out more about the Cornwall branch of Butterfly Conservation including details of field meetings and conservation projects, visit: http://www.cornwall-butterfly-conservation.org.uk/index.php

 

Click on the thumbnail below to view a gallery of more photos from the day.

 

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