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This project to boost numbers of butterflies and chalk grassland in the South Downs National Park near Brighton unexpectedly saw the return of the silver-spotted skipper butterfly, once close to extinction across Sussex.
The South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA)’s ‘Brighton Blues’ project improved and increase areas of rare chalk grassland. Several butterfly species, including the small blue, brown argus, Adonis blue and chalkhill blue, depend on this habitat to thrive.
Chalk grassland is one of the most endangered habitats in the country and it is vital to the survival of wildlife. It only exists because of the grazing that has taken place over thousands of years.
The project restored, expanded and reconnected patches of fragmented and declining chalk grassland habitat in order to conserve and increase populations of rare and threatened chalk downland butterfly species. All these species had been negatively impacted by the loss, fragmentation and degradation of this important habitat that is part of the iconic South Downs landscape.
Work included scrub clearance and stump treatment, weed control, installation of fencing, the creation of bare ground, seeding and plug planting. This enabled the reintroduction of grazing into new areas.
The work also benefited people too. The chalk downland is relied on by more than a million people for clean drinking water and tens of millions of people as a valuable greenspace.
In the 1970s the silver-spotted skipper was so rare that its last two locations were a closely guarded secret. Sightings in the area since the project’s completion indicated its first expansion for nearly ten years. Many other insects and plants also benefited from the work, showing that good management could reverse decades of decline in this rich and unique habitat.
The silver-spotted skipper is one of the latest butterfly species to emerge each year, flying from late July until September. It prefers warm, south-facing slopes with fine grasses and an abundance of chalk grassland flowers. Although it is small, it is a powerful flyer and can be difficult to spot as its olive green and brown wings blend with the colours of the downland turf in late summer. It is only when at rest that the silvery-white spots which give it its name can be seen on its wings.
SDNPA undertook extensive stakeholder consultation and engagement to develop the project, supported by a wide range of other relevant community engagement and consultation work.
They engaged with a wide range of farmers, landowners, local communities, and visitors. They also held dedicated workshops to develop project aims that met local stakeholder needs. They also actively engaged with local people through the South Downs Forum and through one-to-one meetings.
Throughout this engagement process, the plan received 100% support from stakeholders. Relevant land managers were also closely involved in the development of this project through one-to-one engagement and targeted meetings, and signed the relevant consent documents.