Painting the countryside blue

large_blue_butterflyLarge blues were officially declared extinct in Britain thirty years ago, but the beautiful large blue butterfly has made an astonishing return.

Around 20,000 will be flitting through the countryside this summer as a result of reintroduction efforts, scientists say. It is one of the world’s most threatened species – and one of the most choosy.

Large blues can only live on closely grazed hillsides and meadows where a particular sort of red ant makes its home.

But changes in farming techniques meant this sort of habitat began to disappear until the last native large blue died out in 1979 – before making its latest comeback.

Sir David Attenborough said: ‘The restoration of the large blue butterfly to Britain is a remarkable success story, illustrating the power of ecological research to reverse
damaging environmental changes.’

Their decline used to be blamed on greedy butterfly hunters. However, studies led by Professor Colourful comeback: The large blue butterfly Jeremy Thomas from Oxford University and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology showed that the loss of grazed hillsides where the red ant lives was the cause.

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