During 2016 & 2017 the Black to Green project teamed up with East Midlands Butterfly Conservation and a number of dedicated volunteers to develop an exciting habitat creation project. The initiative focused on supporting two threatened butterfly species which had been recorded in the Heart of the Forest – the Dingy Skipper and the White-Letter Hairstreak, as well as providing improved conditions for a wide range of other pollinating insects.
The initiative involved 2 elements – the construction of a butterfly bank at Moira Furnace to further develop wildflower patches which were seeded with the community the previous year through the B2G ‘Flowertastic Mini Golf’ project. Along with the planting of 30 disease-resistant elm trees at Donisthorpe Woodland Park and Moira Furnace, with this tree species chosen specifically to attract the White-letter Hairstreak as it relies entirely on elm trees.
The Butterfly Bank
A Butterfly Bank can be thought of as a unique “all-in-one” habitat feature for butterflies and moths, providing sunny places for the insects to bask and nutrient-poor ground conditions required for nectar and larval food plants to grow in abundance. The bank itself is a simple long capital C-shape construction that is orientated in a particular way as to achieve maximum sunlight throughout the day and is planted with specific wildflower species, with areas of bare ground as to attract particular butterflies. The range of wildflowers were carefully selected to appeal to butterfly species which have been recorded locally, but need some help in connecting their breeding grounds and included Bird’s-foot-trefoil, Common Rock-rose and Sheep’s Sorrel.
The construction of the bank involved digging a trench and replacing the material in the reverse order ie topsoil at the bottom, to ensure the nutrient poor growing conditions required for the chosen wildflower species, followed by layers of limestone and then granite. Then it was ready to be planted. We were joined by Ashby-de-la-Zouch and Coalville Lions Clubs, who also generously helped fund the project, and Ashby Hastings Scouts to plant up the sections of the bank and the adjoining meadow, which saw over 200 plus plants go in.
The bank couldn’t have been completed without their hard work and over the years we are looking forward to this area in and around the bank becoming a hot-spot for butterflies, moths and a wide range of pollinating insects
Elm Tree Planting
In addition to the bank, 30 disease-resistant elm trees were planted by volunteers at Donisthorpe Woodland Park and Moira Furnace. These trees were chosen to help support populations of the White-letter Hairstreak, a butterfly species which relies entirely on elm trees for each stage of their life cycle, and have undergone a massive decline in numbers due to the devastating consequences of Dutch Elm Disease throughout the country in the 1970s.
The planting took place over two days and was carried out by families, local residents and members of the Ashby-de-la-Zouch and Coalville Lions Clubs. Once all of the trees were safely in the ground there was an expected wait of at least a couple of years before any real chance of spotting a White-letter Hairstreaks was likely. The nearest known population of the species was between 7-10km away, which is a significant distance to cover and the planted trees themselves had not yet fully matured to the desired level to attract good numbers. But just a couple of months later a lone White-letter Hairstreak was discovered resting on vegetation within the plantation area. This was a great surprise and we hope to see far more in the future.
A huge thank you to our volunteers and partners on this project including Ashby-de-la-Zouch and Coalville Lions Clubs, Ashby Hastings Scouts, East Midlands Butterfly Conservation, National Forest Company, Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust, Moira Furnace Museum Trust, Leicestershire County Council, Open Air Laboratories (OPAL) and TCV.