Swallowtail caterpillars on milk parsley by Ian Davis

Theft of the food plant and caterpillars of the rare swallowtail butterfly from internationally important nature reserve


Tuesday 18 July, 2017




Norfolk Wildlife Trust has reported the uprooting and theft of five milk parsley plants from its nature reserve at Hickling Broad. Most if not all of the milk parsley plants had rare swallowtail butterfly caterpillars feeding on them and the plants were deliberately removed from the site to acquire the caterpillars. Milk parsley (Peucedanum palustre) is a scarce, vulnerable and declining plant found mainly in East Anglian marshland.  It is also the only plant (a relative of roadside cow parsley) that the green and black striped caterpillars of Britain’s largest butterfly, the swallowtail, will feed upon.  The swallowtail butterfly is extremely rare and also only found in the wild in the fens of the Norfolk Broads.  

Chief Executive, Brendan Joyce said, “This is an appalling wildlife crime to dig up these rare plants from an internationally important nature reserve and deliberately take rare swallowtail butterfly caterpillars. Britain’s vulnerable wildlife faces enough challenges without people callously exploiting precious plants and animals for commercial or personal gain.  It is very unlikely that the plants or the caterpillars will survive for any significant amount of time away from the reserve.  The police are currently investigating the incident and we would urge the public to contact the police if they see swallowtail butterflies in an unusual or previously unknown location or if they are approached to purchase any butterflies or plants.”

It is an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981 (as amended) to uproot plants from the wild without the permission of the owner of the land on which the plant is growing. Uprooting is defined as 'digging up or otherwise removing the plant from the land on which it is actually growing'. It is also an offence to pick the plants or sell them. The removal of caterpillars is prohibited under the same legislation. It is also an offence to intentionally or recklessly destroy or damage any of the flora or fauna by reason of which land is of special scientific interest (SSSI), or intentionally or recklessly disturb any of those fauna and flora.

More than 1,400 acres of reedbed, fen, grazing marsh, open water and woodland make up the Hickling Broad National Nature Reserve. Its wetland habitats, sensitively restored by Norfolk Wildlife Trust, offer a year-round haven for threatened wildlife such as iconic swallowtail butterflies, marsh harriers, Norfolk hawker dragonflies, common crane and bittern.  

Hickling Broad is a Site of Scientific Special Interest (SSSI) and a National Nature Reserve (NNR).  It is also designated as a Special Protection Area (SPA) under the EU Birds Directive and as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) under the EU Habitats Directive in recognition of its European importance for its habitats and the wildlife that depends on them.

- Ends –

From Saturday 15 July: Please contact Nik Khandpur NWT Head of Development nikk@norfolkwildlifetrust.org.uk or mobile: 07754 966345
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