South Downs rare butterfly project awarded £28,000

S44502H14  The Downland Scheme Butterfly project Launch at the Wiston Estate Office on Thursday morning SUS-141030-162737001

S44502H14 The Downland Scheme Butterfly project Launch at the Wiston Estate Office on Thursday morning SUS-141030-162737001

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One of Britain’s rarest butterflies has been handed a lifeline by the Steyning Downland Scheme.

Numbers have crashed since the 1970s and only about 100 colonies of Duke of Burgundy butterflies remain. Two of these are in Sussex but in 2003, only eight of the species were seen in the whole county.

The Heritage Lottery Fund has granted £28,000 for the Steyning Dukes and Downland Project in a bid to encourage the dainty little butterfly back to the chalk grasslands of the Steyning downland.

The project is being run in conjunction with the South Downs National Park Authority and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Matthew Thomas, Steyning Downland Scheme project manager, said: “These butterflies would have been here hundreds of years ago but the numbers have crashed. They haven’t been here since around the Second World War.”

It is hoped people will get involved by attending an event at the Steyning Centre on Monday, December 8 at 7pm.

Sarah Quantrill, project co-ordinator, said: “The emphasis is on involving the local community, with volunteers carrying out conservation work, which we already do but will be doing more of. We are asking people to join up as butterfly monitors from May to August next year.”

Sarah said some of the areas covered were chalk grassland, now grown over with trees and scrub. The group is starting a grazing programme to make the area more attractive to the butterflies.