One of Britain's most beautiful butterflies is facing extinction in much of the south of England. The Pearl-bordered Fritillary is no longer found in much of central England and since 1997 it has been lost from Dorset and Somerset. In the past few years it has also become extinct in Kent, although attempts are being made to reintroduce it there. It is hanging on by a thread in Sussex and Surrey, where it survives in only a few woods.
The plight of the Pearl-bordered Fritillary is highlighted in the latest edition Butterfly, the magazine of Butterfly Conservation.
Conservationist Dr Dan Hoare writes: "The sight of the sun-loving Pearl-bordered Fritillary flying through a woodland clearing was once a common springtime scene."
Sadly, the species is now in rapid decline. A major survey co-ordinated by Butterfly Conservation reveals a stark picture
The number of Pearl-bordered Fritillary breeding colonies in England has decreased by a third in just seven years.
The South East has been badly hit, losing half of its colonies in the same period.
There are now thought to be only 170 colonies surviving across the whole of England.
Seven out of every 10 species of British butterfly are in decline, and the Pearl-bordered Fritillary is one of the most threatened. Changes in farming and woodland practices in recent decades, along with the loss of habitat to development, have been identified as the main causes of the general decline.
A key factor in the Pearl-bordered Fritillary's decline is loss of traditional woodland management. This has left many woods dark and overgrown, depriving the Pearl-bordered Fritillary of the sunny clearings where it thrives.
Dan Hoare, who is Butterfly Conservation's South East Regional Officer, believes woodland management must change if the species is to survive. He says: "This is about sunlight versus darkness. Colonies are thriving at appropriately managed sites across southern England, including woods in Sussex, Wiltshire, and Devon and in the New Forest in Hampshire. So we know the decline can be halted."
Butterfly Conservation can help with advice for those managing woodlands.
Butterflies are more sensitive to change than plants, birds and other wildlife and because of this they act as a barometer both of the success of new biodiversity projects and of environmental deterioration. They also have significance as indicators of climate change with several species are spreading rapidly north.
Butterfly Conservation is the largest charity of its type in Europe. Its 12,000-plus members record around one million sightings of butterflies every year, providing a remarkable insight into what is happening in the British countryside.