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Small Blues about to fly in Surrey!

Staff and volunteers at the charity Butterfly Conservation are getting excited for the emergence of a particular butterfly in Surrey this year, the Small Blue (Cupido minimus). This species has been on the decline in Surrey for many years, in part due to a lack of its’ sole food plant, Kidney Vetch.

Since 2017 Butterfly Conservation has been running a ‘Surrey Small Blue Project’ to boost the population of the butterfly and encourage it to spread across the North Downs between Guildford and Dorking.

The Small Blue is present at a few sites around Guildford including Pewley Down, and at Box Hill, but there is a large gap between. By creating lots of suitable patches of habitat, the butterfly should be able to disperse.

Creating the habitat involves removing (scraping) grasses and topsoil mostly manually with spades and then sowing Kidney Vetch seeds. More than 150 scrapes have been created with a volunteer task force.

Seedlings are now sprouting making the area more suitable for the butterfly. Small Blues usually start to emerge in mid- May and can be found until the end of June. They are Britain’s smallest butterfly and are similar to Holly Blues in appearance. Butterfly Conservation regularly monitor the species and are hoping to see an increase this season.

Small Blue on Kidney Vetch by Martin D’arcy

Fiona Haynes, the Small Blue Project Officer comments; “The project has been a real success so far. We’ve been working closely with the Surrey Hills AONB, National Trust, Guildford Borough Council, Surrey Wildlife Trust, the Albury Estate and private landowners such as Denbies Vineyard and the Rosamund Trust Community Garden to help improve these amazing chalk grassland sites for a whole range of wildlife. We’ve got a fantastic group of volunteers who undertake weekly tasks or undertake monitoring surveys.”

Volunteers weeding and seeding a new scrape, photo by Ken Elsom

The months of May and June are the best time to look for butterflies as they like bright sunny conditions. Green Hairstreaks, Grizzled Skippers and Dingy Skippers are among the species already out, and sightings can be recorded either using the traditional pen, paper and Ordnance Survey grid reference method, or online using the i-record website or phone app.

The project is also helping some other rarities such as the Adonis Blue, the Silver-spotted Skipper and Grizzled and Dingy Skippers.

You can get involved in the small blue project in many ways – attend a survey event, volunteer for practical habitat management events, or if you have land or a garden in the area, consider whether you would be able to do some wildlife gardening for butterflies. Simply get in touch with; fhaynes@butterfly-conservation.org for more information.