Marsh Fritillary is surely one of our most attractive British butterflies – a striking checkerboard of fiery oranges and burnt umbers flecked with delicate hints of gold and cream. A true delight of the Lepidoptera world. It was also a species that I had been extremely keen to catch up with after learning two years ago that there was a small population just a couple of hours away from home. Unable to visit in previous springs due to a combination of poor weather and being away in Mull and New York respectively during the last two flight seasons, this year we planned in a visit during the half term holiday.
Parking in the local village and walking the short distance to the entrance gate of the reserve, after a brief stroll along the boardwalk we had reached the small patch of ground where the fritillaries can be found. Almost instantly I spotted our first one – zig-zagging low down above the grass before alighting on a nearby flower to nectar and allowing relatively approachable views. Far more used to the restless and dancing flights of other species of fritillary, it was a refreshing change for these mosaic patterned beauties to tolerate a close approach!
In total we managed to find 4 or 5 individuals – luckily the fritillaries are just managing to hang on here, despite being reduced to just a small isolated population in what is sadly the last site for Marsh Fritillaries in the area.
With Marsh Fritillary colonies undergoing periodic population crashes and extreme swings in numbers, individuals will recolonise the area from other nearby populations as part of one large meta-colony in order to replenish numbers if they drop too low. If there is an absence of adjacent colonies nearby however, this lone surviving population could be in trouble if numbers do ever crash to unrecoverable numbers.
Once a relatively widespread butterfly, Marsh Fritillaries have undergone a serious decline in numbers, especially in continental Europe, and the British Isles are now considered one of the few strongholds left for this charismatic species. Despite this, they have suffered severe population drops even in Britain due to the draining of their fenland and marshy habitat for agriculture, making the Marsh Fritillary a definite species of concern. Appropriate conservation measures will hopefully see them continue to grace our wetland meadows for years to come.
|Marsh Fritillary sites may be susceptible to trampling (especially if there are caterpillars still waiting to emerge in the undergrowth early on in the season) so it is always best to tread carefully and view from the footpath where possible.|