Marsh Fritillary butterflies making a come back

1991 was the last time a Marsh Fritillary (Euphydryas aurinia) was spotted at WWT’s Jones’s Mill nature reserve in Pewsey. Their return signals great things for the reserve and is a credit to the reserve staff and volunteers who work hard to maintain it.

The Marsh Fritillary is a threatened species, not just in the UK but across the whole of Europe, it is protected under the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act, listed on UK BAP and section 41 of the NERC Act in England and Wales. The butterfly is primarily found across south-west England with small populations in the north-west and into Scotland, making Wiltshire a core hotspot for the species.

Marsh Fritillary caterpillars main food plant is Devil’s-bit Scabious (Succisa pratensis), primarily found in damp meadows, marshes and riverbanks. In more calcareous areas caterpillars will opt for Field Scabious (Knautia arvensis). As a result the main habitat of the Marsh Fritillary is damp or chalky grasslands. It is a highly volatile species that requires extensive habitat networks to thrive and the slightest barrier, such as a hedge or river, will prevent dispersal. They are under threat from habitat loss along with larval parasitism by the parasitic wasp Cotesia bignellii, for which the Marsh Fritillary is its only host.

Jones’s Mill nature reserve is a fen, made up of woodland, ponds and wet grassland. It is home to wildlife that thrives in wet conditions, including Devil’s-bit Scabious. The maintenance of meadow and marsh areas such as this essential in the protection of these beautiful butterflies and it is very promising to have them return to Jones’s Mill after such a long absence.

If you see any Marsh Fritillary butterflies when out and about in Wiltshire please let us know!


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The Big Butterfly Count 2018

Butterfly Conservation has launched it’s Big Butterfly Count for 2018, running from the 20th July to the 12th August.

All you need to do is head out into your garden and spend 15 minutes recording all the butterflies you find. You can get a handy guide and ID chart on the Big Butterfly Count website or even download the app, this is also where you need to head to record your sightings at the end of the day.

The majority of butterfly species across the UK have been in decline for the past 40 years however the cold winter and settled spring/summer we’ve been having this year are the perfect conditions for butterflies, therefore numbers are expected to flourish.

Not only will you be contributing to butterfly conservation but spending time in nature has also been shown to alleviate stress and anxiety, offering a respite from modern life according to mental health charity Mind.

The Big Butterfly Count of 2018 is supported by Sir David Attenborough who takes great pleasure in watching butterflies in his own garden, saying “I have been privileged to have witnessed some truly breath-taking wildlife spectacles in far-flung locations but some of my most memorable experiences have happened when I’ve been simply sitting and watching the wildlife that lives where I do.”

Get out, enjoy nature and do your bit for conservation.

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Top 5 species to look out for this month…

The sun is shining and school holidays are almost here. What better way to spend your days than out and about in nature…

Here’s our top 5 species to look out for this month. If you see them we want to know, please record your sightings on our website.

Hummingbird hawkmoth Macroglossum stellatarum

Understandably named for their similarity to hummingbirds, these moths hover to feed on nectar before darting off to the next flower. They beat their wings so fast you can even hear the hum – 70-80 beats per second! They are particularly partial to sipping nectar from buddleias, verbina and honeysuckle with their long proboscis, studies have shown they have an incredible memory and return to the same flower bed each day so keep a look out around your garden.

How to ID it: Orange-brown hind and underwing along with characteristic flight. Most similar to two species of bee hawkmoth however these have mostly transparent wings.

Violet helleborine Epipactis purpurata

A flower that gets even more beautiful on closer inspection. Look out for these in deciduous woodlands, beech woods in particular. Pollinators include wasps and it’s thought that the nectar self-ferments inside the flower and has a narcotic effect in the insects! WWT Reserve Ravensroost Wood is the place to go in search of these.

How to ID it: 40+cm, with large pale flowers that open fully, allowing pollinating insects inside. Broad leaves that are washed purple on the underneath.

Glow worm Lampyris noctiluca

Despite the names these aren’t actually worms, they are the female of the Lampyris noctiluca beetle. Glow worms are most commonly found as larva on chalk or limestone grasslands where they hide away under rocks and feed on slugs and snails, every gardeners friend! Try Morgan’s Hill or Coombe Bissett down in the evenings on the hunt for glow worms.

How to ID it: The male looks very beetle-like but the female looks more like the larva and has the unmistakable greenish-yellow glow of her bottom at night which she uses to attract mates.


These long warm evenings are the perfect time to see bats who’ll be coming out of their roosts in search of insects, a tiny pipistrelle can eat as many as 3,000 small insects in one night! Depending on where you are the common species will vary, for example Daubenton’s are more common near water whereas pipistrelles might be flying around your garden.

How to ID it: The best way to ID a bat is through visual inspection of roosts (please don’t do this unless you are licensed) or with the use of a bat detector which picks up and identifies their echolocation frequencies.

Swift Apus apus

This summer visitor is a common sight in the skies across Wiltshire. They are incredible fliers and even sleep on the wing, handy when making the migration up from sub-Saharan Africa. They are also incredibly fast fliers, reaching speeds of up to 110km/h… the fastest bird recorded flying under its own power not diving!

How to ID it: They are slim birds, sooty brown in colour with forked tails and scythe-like wings. Easily identifiable by their high pitched screech, they are the only one out of swifts, swallows and house martins to call on the wing. Wherever you are, look up, listen and you’ll spot them.

Time to get recording

So whilst you are out about each month record all the species you see and don’t forget to let us know. All the records you can give us go towards conserving the wildlife if Wiltshire.

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