UK’s smallest butterfly boosted by Ayrshire golf courses

Habitat for the UK’s smallest butterfly is expanding along the Ayrshire coast thanks to a project led by the Scottish Wildlife Trust in partnership with Butterfly Conservation Scotland and local links golf courses.

Small Blue (photo: Iain Cowe)

Small Blue (photo: Iain Cowe)

The small blue butterfly had been completely absent from Ayrshire since the 1980s. The species bred successfully for the third year in a row on the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s Gailes Marsh reserve and neighbouring Dundonald Links this summer after work to create large areas of kidney vetch (the butterfly’s only food plant), and a carefully managed translocation in 2013.

Greenkeepers on a number of links courses south of Irvine have now sown kidney vetch and others are following suit later in the year, giving the butterfly a larger area to colonise. Kidney vetch thrives on sandy soil so the courses on the Ayrshire coast are the perfect place to grow it.

Paul Kirkland of Butterfly Conservation Scotland said: “The settled weather of the early summer was ideal for seeing small blues on the wing this year. Our members observed them mating and laying eggs almost daily and we are very hopeful that this small population will spread and grow as their habitat expands.”

Gill Smart, Reserves Manager, Scottish Wildlife Trust said: “It’s fantastic that the small blue has continued to breed successfully but the population in Ayrshire is still small and vulnerable. Increasing their habitat by planting kidney vetch on all the golf courses south of Irvine provides the small blue butterflies with room to move and spread across the landscape, giving them a very strong chance of long-term survival.”

The R&A are supporting the habitat enhancement work with £33,000 of funding from 2015 to 2018.

Steve Isaac, Director of Golf Course Management, R&A said: “The continued success of the small blue is exciting news and an example of how golf courses can help protect and conserve our wildlife.”

“Golf courses have tremendous potential in this regard, and it is good to see the greenkeepers of the Ayrshire coast working closely with the Scottish Wildlife Trust and Butterfly Conservation Scotland to provide safe haven for pollinators.”

The small blue is the UK’s smallest resident butterfly. It is found on grassland habitats and relies on kidney vetch, a plant in the clover family that thrives on sandy soil. Small blue butterflies are a priority species in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan.

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