Tiny eggs show rare but­ter­fly is breed­ing again in Scot­land

The Guardian - - NATIONAL - Pa­trick Barkham

The mi­cro­scopic eggs of an en­dan­gered but­ter­fly have been found in Scot­land, sug­gest­ing the in­sect has re­turned to breed in the coun­try for the first time in more than 130 years.

Lepi­dopter­ists found white-let­ter hairstreak eggs on wych elm trees at Len­nel, Ber­wick­shire, this month after an adult but­ter­fly was spot­ted last sum­mer 10 miles away – the first sight­ing in Scot­land since 1884.

“Last year was an im­pos­si­ble find, but this year’s egg dis­cov­ery is be­yond any­thing we thought pos­si­ble,” said Iain Cowe, but­ter­fly recorder for the Bor­ders, who found the adult but­ter­fly last sum­mer.

Most but­ter­flies hi­ber­nate as cater­pil­lars, but the white-let­ter hairstreak spends nine months of the year as an egg, which is smaller than a grain of salt and stuck to branches of elm.

The eggs were de­tected by Jill Mills and Ken Hay­dock, vol­un­teers for But­ter­fly Con­ser­va­tion who trav­elled from Bolton to scour trees in the Bor­ders.

“We were search­ing the elm trees by the river Tweed at Len­nel when Jill called me over,” said Hay­dock. “I could see by the look on her face that she had found some­thing. “We were both beam­ing with dis­be­lief and de­light when we re­alised what Jill had found and within se­conds I was fum­bling in my pack for the cam­era – my hands were shak­ing.”

Among the eggs found was an old, al­ready-hatched shell, sug­gest­ing the elu­sive but­ter­fly has bred in Scot­land since at least 2016. Be­fore the dis­cov­ery at Len­nel, the most northerly lo­ca­tion for white-let­ter hairstreak eggs was in Northum­ber­land.

The species has suf­fered a 72% de­cline over the past decade and it is still af­fected by the loss of trees to Dutch Elm dis­ease in the 1970s.

A colony of the but­ter­fly is threat­ened with ex­tinc­tion in Sh­effield, where cam­paign­ers are fight­ing to save a rare sur­viv­ing English elm. Sh­effield coun­cil wants to dras­ti­cally prune the tree as part of its con­tro­ver­sial PFI con­tract to main­tain the city’s streets.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: TIM MELLING/BUT­TER­FLY CON­SER­VA­TION/PA

White-let­ter hairstreak eggs have been found on elm trees in Ber­wick­shire

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