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Marsh fritillary butterfly web spotted at Ash Moor nature reserve

Added: 18th November 2011

DWT’s Communication Assistant Carrie Park recounts her visit to Ash Moor to look for more marsh fritillary webs.

Here at DWT we get very excited when a new species is spotted at one of our nature reserves. Recently a marsh fritillary web was discovered at Ash Moor nature reserve by DWT Nature Reserve Officer, Steve Threlkeld. This is good news as the marsh fritillary is an endangered species with Devon’s Culm grasslands a European stronghold.

I asked Steve what he thought about his discovery; he said ‘I was surprised to say the least. It has been five years since I saw a marsh fritillary anywhere near the reserve. It will be interesting to see if they can now establish themselves. It won’t change the management of the site. We will have to wait and see what happens, and carry out a survey next year to see if numbers have increased. It is quite exciting really!’

When Steve told me the news I volunteered to come out to Ash Moor in North Devon to see what else we could find at this Culm site in the Working Wetlands Project area. The plan was to survey one of the most wildlife rich fields and luckily it was a beautiful sunny autumn day. We wandered through knee high golden grasses interspersed with purple devil bit scabious flowers looking for marsh fritillary webs. We didn’t find any other webs but hope the single web that Steve found will survive the winter to produce more butterflies next year. The visit produced lots of other butterfly sightings in the autumn sunshine including commas, brimstones, tortoiseshells, common blues, skippers and red admirals. We also saw dragonflies, a kestrel, garden spiders and some intriguing fungi.

Ash Moor has come a long way since DWT acquired it in 2006 from Defra. The luscious green fields and woodland of today paints a very different image of what this place looked like ten years ago. In 2001 huge pits were dug in four of the fields for the disposal of carcasses during the foot-and-mouth crisis. However these pits were never used for this purpose due the weight of local opposition and the reduction of cases of the disease. In the last few years DWT has been focussed on restoring the site to a range of wetland habitats of pastures, ponds and woodlands.

Ash Moor shows how a site can be turned from a wildlife hole to a haven. In the future the idea is to spread green-hay (wildflower rich seed) around the rest of the site to make it even more diverse and attractive to species like the marsh fritillary. In another ten years the site will look even more different than its foot-and-mouth days.

Find out more about Ash Moor nature reserve  and marsh fritillaries

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