I had the very great privilege yesterday of spending time with some of Britain’s most threatened butterflies, in the only location in Wales where they can be found. These are the High brown fritillaries (Argynnis adippe), which, despite their large robust appearance, have declined by almost 80% since the 1970s and are now the subject of ongoing conservation efforts by the staff of Butterfly Conservation and their dedicated and hard-working team of volunteers.
It was one of their long-term volunteers, Richard, who willingly gave his time yesterday to show me around the site, to explain all about the work they’re doing to save this butterfly from extinction, and to show me how he surveys a transect to monitor their population. Brush cutting, bracken bashing, surveying, visitor management, tour guiding, newsletter writing – and he’s been doing all this since 1995! I simply can’t thank him enough.
And as for the High browns – what glorious creatures they are! There was one particular area, a wide bowl of head-high bracken, where we were treated to wonderful sightings. The males mostly raced past at high speed, frantically following the trail of an enticing female, and sometimes bounced around each other in their quest for dominance and territory. At other times, they wafted gracefully around the bracken tops, offering perfect close views when they stopped to nectar on bramble and thistle flowers; they even floated over to check out the human intruders in their space.
The High brown fritillary can be difficult to tell apart from the Dark green fritillary, both of which share this particular location – it’s all about the size of the third dot on their upper wings and the presence or absence of reddish markings on their under-wings but you do need clear views to see these differences. I think I’d cracked it by the end of the day but the best thing, the most wonderful thing was just being there amongst them. Bliss!