Researcher Short Articles


Blue butterflies, Burnet moths and Burial Mounds

By Grace Twiston-Davies - University of Reading


The recovery of many butterfly species are being helped by ambitious plans to create a landscape of wild-flower meadows surrounding the iconic Stonehenge stone-circle.

Research by the University of Reading and the National Trust have shown that these new meadows are providing homes and food for many butterfly species including  those which are in particular need of conservation. The UKs smallest butterfly the Small blue with a wingspan of just 2cm is found at the site as well as the flashy turquoise Adonis blue and dramatic black, pink 6-Spot Burnt moth and many other butterfly and moth species.

These new meadows are also protecting the rare pockets of ancient grassland found on the numerous burial mounds scattered across the Stonehenge World Heritage Site where the Adonis blues are found, providing these butterflies with extra nectar flowers to feed on.

There are about 60 species of butterflies in UK and nearly half of these are threatened. This means that providing new homes and food sources are very important because butterflies represent the health of the environment so what is good for butterflies is also good for other plants, insects and birds.

So far an area of wild-flower meadows the size of 500 full sized football pitches have been created on sites that were farmland and is one of the largest grassland creation projects in Europe. The aims of this ambitious project were to provide protection for the wildlife and archeologically features at the World Heritage Site and to provide an open landscape for the public to enjoy.

The University of Reading are studying how, when and why butterflies are moving back into these new  wild-flower meadows and so far the results are promising with meadows full of wild-flowers, butterflies and bees and huge numbers of Common blue butterflies and Burnet moths who are using the meadows for food and mating.

The final phase of the project is underway with meadow creation to surround two important areas of  rare, ancient grassland which are especially important for the Small blue and Adonis blue butterflies with the hope that this will help to protect and extent their populations if the future.

This photo was taken during one of my wild-flower meadow surveys, these Common blue butterflies were mating whilst precariously attached to a long blade of grass so I quickly took a photo using my mobile phone before I disturbed them and they flew away to fine some privacy.