A collaboration of coast and countryside organisations on The Lizard Peninsula

Over the last three years, researchers from the University of Exeter have surveyed and monitored all known populations of Marsh fritillary on the Lizard by conducting larval web counts in early spring. Several MSc students have also demonstrated that both the structure of the vegetation and amount of devil’s-bit scabious are key factors in determining population size within a site.
We now are reasonably confident to suggest that Marsh fritillaries are restricted to just two major colonies on the Lizard, although they have been recorded from an additional 8 sites which potentially support small populations - and thus this species remains extremely vulnerable.Devils-bit Scabious

Devils-bit Scabious

We are now working closely with Natural England, Cornwall Wildlife Trust and local farmers to improve habitat quality within these sites by active management, principally to improve vegetation structure but also to increase the amount of scabious, with the long term aim of linking the strongest colonies to the smaller ones to improve population viability at the landscape scale.
Substantial progress has been made over the last year across a number of these sites; grazing exclusion zones have increased the size of scabious plants within sites enhancing their attractiveness to gravid Marsh fritillary females, scrub has been removed and small patches have been cut within rank vegetation to promote scabious growth, local farmers have kindly allowed access to their land so that colonies can be marked and avoided prior to burning and scabious seed has been collected and distributed across adjacent sites to enhance its colonisation across the landscape.
While the Marsh fritillary currently remains vulnerable on the Lizard, we are optimistic that within the next few years this management will benefit one of Britain’s rarest butterflies and we are extremely grateful to staff at Natural England, Cornwall Wildlife Trust and local farmers for their commitment to this project. Marsh fritillary species profile


Assessing the effect of climate change on orange tip butterfly phenology

Male Orange tipButterflies are extremely sensitive indicators to environmental change. When people hear about climate change, they normally think of the consequences of warmer spring and summer temperatures.
Although it is well known that higher spring temperature advances phenological events (e.g. butterflies start to fly earlier in warm springs), winter temperature and duration may also be important, for example, mild or short winters may delay events as overwintering butterflies require chilling before spring development can start.


A collaboration between researchers at the Universities of Stockholm and Exeter have established a field experiment on the Lizard to investigate the combined effect of winter and spring temperature on the phenology of orange tip butterflies.


Findings from a previous study suggest that the winter durations commonly experienced in the south and particularly south west of the UK (Cornwall) are short enough to cause a delay. We aim to test if this prediction is true by overwintering pupae in the wild in this region and subjecting half of these pupae to extra duration of cold temperatures. The project is using pupae from five populations; four from the UK and one from Sweden. The hypothesis is that the individuals that have experienced extra winter duration will emerge before the ones that have been left outdoors. Temperature at the very local scale is likely to affect spring and overwintering chilling and so examining the effect of microclimate variation on individuals overwintering at different locations in the field could be important to further our understanding of the impact of climate change on butterfly phenology.

Male Orange tip platform
Orange tip butterfly experiment on the Lizard (photograph by John Foster). Luckily we made the platform high enough to withstand floods... Orange-tip species profile


Published: May 2017
Author: Robin Curtis (Exeter University)