After a 33-year absence, a widescale environmental and landscape enhancement project involving nine golf courses along the Ayrshire coast has successfully reintroduced a small but significant population of Small Blue butterflies to the south west of Scotland.
The Small Blue (Cupido minimus) is the UK’s smallest resident butterfly. (Image Tim Melling) With a wingspan often not exceeding 16mm, its small size makes it vulnerable to local climatic and habitat changes. Although it is classed as not threatened, the Small Blue’s status throughout the UK is declining, with the main colonies being located in the south of England and northwest of Scotland where its only food plant, Kidney Vetch, grows within calcareous grasslands and coastal sand dune systems.
Following a building boom in the 1970s and 1980s, the loss of key wildflower habitats in Ayrshire meant that the Small Blue was last seen in the county in 1982. The Scottish Wildlife Trust sought the help of the Ayrshire Sustainability Group, which is made up of nine golf courses plus a number of local businesses and wildlife organisations, to release a colony of the butterflies at their Gailes Marsh Reserve next to Dundonald Links.
Key to the project’s success was the establishment of Kidney Vetch wildflowers at each of the project’s locations, with the hope being that the establishment of a semi-continuous corridor of these and other native wild flower species would enable the butterflies to re-colonise across its former range.
“Unfortunately, Kidney Vetch is a short-lived and vulnerable wild flower which responds poorly to competitor, environmental and habitat pressures,” explains Alistair Eccles, Technical Sales Representative for Germinal in Scotland. “The success of the project therefore depended on using a source of high quality Kidney Vetch seed which could establish vigorously and continue to thrive throughout the newly established wildlife corridor. We were therefore happy to contribute to the project’s success by donating the required Kidney Vetch seed which was specially harvested for us in the UK.”
Following the original colony’s release two years ago, the Small Blue remained elusive, with no subsequent sightings reported in the following 12 months. “It was feared that the release colony had simply died out,“ says the Small Blue project’s manager, Gill Smart of the Scottish Wildlife Trust. “However, several sightings of the iconic butterfly last summer, including at Dundonald Links, have shown that the original colony not only survived, but also went on to produce two generations of offspring which have successfully dispersed along the Kidney Vetch corridor from the original release site.”
The project has expanded to promote wildflower corridors in general, beyond where Small Blue could reach, and is now named the Irvine to Girvan Nectar Network (IGNN). This has been funded for the last two years by The R&A which has extended its support by committing to the project for a further three years (to March 2018) explains Jo Kingsbury of RSPB, who manages Nectar Network Projects for the Ayrshire Sustainability Group.
“There are still a few gaps in the Kidney Vetch corridor, but the funding extension will enable us to build on the success to date by creating more habitats which bolster the corridor and ensure the ongoing survival of the Small Blue and other essential pollinating insects.
“The project illustrates that golf courses can be excellent havens for wildlife and important links in green corridors that facilitate wildlife movement. As such, they all offer the potential for environmental enhancement and improved habitat connectivity. The Ayrshire Sustainability Group has created a legacy for subsequent generations of greenkeepers to build on and clearly demonstrates how working together can successfully re-create ecologically valuable environments.”