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Return of the large blue; The UK's rarest species of butterfly is making a comeback. Emily Beament explains how the discovery of its reliance on a red ant has led to fresh hope their numbers can be restored.

Byline: Emily Beament

Ahillside covered in wildflowers could become a key site for the UK's rarest butterfly, the onceextinct large blue, conservationists said.

Butterfly Conservation has acquired Rough Bank in the Cotswolds and plans to reintroduce the large blue butterfly to the site, which is already home to four species of blue butter-flies.

The large blue became extinct in the UK in 1979 and is globally threatened but, following the discovery of its unusual lifecycle relying on a species of red ant, it was successfully reintroduced at a few sites across southern England.

Butterfly Conservation hopes the Rough Bank reserve could become a flagship site for the species as it expands back into the Cotswolds from the area it was reintroduced in Somerset's Polden Hills.

Rough Bank overlooks the Slad Valley, a landscape brought to life by writer Laurie Lee in his autobiographical novel Cider with Rosie, and is made up of flower-rich grassland which boasts a wide range of orchids.

It is home to the Adonis, chalkhill, small and common blue butterflies and it is hoped the threatened Duke of Burgundy will also return to the reserve.

The large blue's survival depends on a species of red ant. The butterfly's caterpillars resemble ant grubs, tricking the red ant into carrying them into the ant nests.

Inside the nest they feed on ant grubs for up to two years, and when they transform into a chrysalis they ensure further protection by producing a song mimicking the queen ant. The reintroduction programme will involve grazing the site with cattle, clearing some scrub and making sure the right species of ant is present.

The butterfly will be introduced as young caterpillars taken from existing colonies in Somerset and placed carefully to be adopted by the ants.

Butterfly Conservation has secured Rough Bank with the help of a grant from government conservation agency Natural England, but needs public support for further funds for acquiring and managing the site.

Dr Martin Warren, chief executive of the wildlife charity, said: "This site gives us a unique opportunity to put something very special back into the Cotswold landscape and create a wonderful new reserve for the large blue and other butterflies.

"We urgently need the public to help us acquire this site and ensure it is managed in the best way possible."

* The spring weather has baffled Britain's butterflies, with some emerging unusually early due to the warm March and others hit by the April deluge, conservationists said.

Some spring species emerged several weeks early in March, but the wettest April on record has delayed the appearance of many butterflies.

Wildlife charity Butterfly Conservation is warning that if the wet conditions return it could affect the breeding success of some species later in the year.

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The UK's rarest butterfly, the once-extinct large blue (above). Butterfly Conservation has acquired Rough Bank in the Cotswolds (right) with plans to reintroduce the large blue butterfly to the site.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:May 31, 2012
Words:491
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