Purple emperor butterfly, credit Mike Gasson

The Emperor Returns


Wednesday 17 July, 2019


Once extinct butterfly confirmed in Norfolk wood

Experts confirm the purple emperor butterfly has returned to Norfolk’s largest ancient woodland, once its stronghold in the county, nearly 50 years after it was declared extinct in Norfolk.

This is the first sighting in Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s Foxley Wood since the 1970s, following a handful of sightings over the last few years in Sheringham Park.

An expanding population can re-colonise new sites, but only if the perfect habitat is available. This confirmed sighting by Butterfly Conservation in Foxley Wood not only heralds a successful restoration, but it adds weight to the belief the butterfly is potentially breeding again in Norfolk.

Foxley Wood was the breeding stronghold for purple emperors, before large parts of the wood was converted to a conifer plantation in the 1960s. The felling of large oaks triggered the decline and disappearance of the butterfly.

The wood’s fortunes changed for the better when it was acquired by Norfolk Wildlife Trust in 1988 and the ancient woodland habitat restored. The varied habitats and rich biodiversity mean once again Foxley Wood is a haven for butterflies.

Head of Nature Reserves at Norfolk Wildlife Trust, John Milton said: “This is extremely exciting and rewarding news. Despite nearly thirty years as a conifer plantation, the restoration of Foxley Wood has made it hospitable once again for this impressive butterfly.

“Purple emperors spend much of their time in the high woodland canopy, making observation difficult, but the iridescent purple males are in the habit of descending to take salts. As with the silver-washed fritillary, success for the purple emperor requires a precise habitat. A good supply of shaded sallow trees is essential for egg laying and the best sites invariably feature mature oak trees.”

For many, the gentle beauty of butterflies fluttering from one flower to another is the joy of summer, but they can also tell us much about the health of the countryside where they live. NWT is working on a landscape scale across the county to create healthy habitat for wildlife.

John continues: “We’ve restored Foxley Wood by putting it back to deciduous woodland but it remains in isolation. The real challenge – and it’s somewhat visionary – is to connect it through corridors in the landscape with other ancient woods in North Norfolk.”

 

The Long Read: Nick Acheson explores the restoration of NWT Foxley Wood

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