A wildlife conservation project to reinstate the UK’s smallest butterfly, the Small Blue, back onto Scotland's west coast was launched by the Ayrshire Sustainability Group. It aims to create a semi–continuous corridor of Kidney Vetch and other native wildflower species in which the butterfly can thrive.
With a wingspan often not exceeding 16mm the Small Blue is vulnerable to climatic and habitat changes. Although classed as not threatened, its status is declining, with the main colonies being found where its only food plant, Kidney Vetch, grows within calcareous grasslands and coastal sand dunes.
The project, supported by seven Ayrshire golf clubs, local businesses and the Scottish Wildlife Trust, followed the release of a butterfly colony at Gailes Marsh Reserve. It is hoped that by increasing Kidney Vetch at each site, the colony will establish itself along the coastline.
“The Small Blue was last seen in Ayrshire in 1982,” explains Bob Taylor, Senior Consultant Ecology & Environment, Sports Turf Research Institute . “As such, the Group was keen to see the re–establishment of these iconic butterflies across Ayrshire and hopes that last year’s release at Gailes Marsh, and this year’s planned release at Dundonald Links will enable the species to expand.”
Key to establishing a viable population is the creation and management of good quality, varied grasslands for shelter and where early successional conditions are right for establishing Kidney Vetch.
“By working with other golf courses and local companies, we hope to establish a chain of connected environments which will enable the initial colony to thrive and expand,” explains Amanda Dorans, Greenkeeper, Dundonald Links.
“The success of the project was dependent on finding a source of high quality Kidney Vetch seed, and we are pleased to have been supported by Germinal who donated enough seed to create a suitable environment at the Dundonald Links and Royal Troon.”
Gill Smart, Local Reserves Manager, Scottish Wildlife Trust said: “Progress with the Small Blue would have been impossible without the enthusiasm, knowledge and good contact within our Sustainability Group. The Small Blue butterfly would literally get nowhere without the willingness of Ayrshire’s links courses to sow and care for Kidney Vetch.”
Steve Isaac, Director, Golf Course Management, The R&A commented: “The Small Blue project is an important piece of collaborative work which demonstrates how golf can drive other businesses to deliver environmental and social benefits to communities. The R&A is delighted to support this project and we look forward to seeing the results of habitat restoration to encourage the recovery of local populations of the Small Blue butterfly.”
Alistair Eccles, Technical Sales Representative, Germinal explained that Kidney Vetch is very short–lived and a poor competitor “It is however an essential part of creating the right environment to support the full life–cycle of the Small Blue.
“The successful establishment of a habitat rich with Kidney Vetch requires open ground conditions, a lack of competition and quality seed of a known local provenance. We were therefore delighted to be able to support the conservation project, and look forward to keeping up to date with the colony’s progress as it hopefully spreads along the Ayrshire coast.”