Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Conservationists in a flutter: How saving rare butterflies can generate profits

By Eoghan Macguire, for CNN
April 25, 2012 -- Updated 1335 GMT (2135 HKT)
Populations of the heath fritillary (pictured) have increased in southern England after the introduction of a new forestry management scheme. Populations of the heath fritillary (pictured) have increased in southern England after the introduction of a new forestry management scheme.
Heath fritillary
Heath fritillary
Large blue
Wood white
High brown fritillary
Pearl bordered fritillary
  • One of Britain's most critically endangered butterflies is making a comeback
  • The heath fritillary conservation scheme partners conservationists with private landowners
  • The project generates cash and could be replicated to save other endangered butterflies, say Butterfly Conservation

(CNN) -- One of the UK's most critically endangered butterflies is making a comeback thanks to a profit making partnership between private landowners and conservation organizations.

The heath fritillary -- a rare species exclusive to the south of England that thrives in cleared woodland environments -- has declined sharply over the past 25 years as forest clearing has become less common.

But population numbers are on the rise again after the introduction of a forestry management scheme that enables rural landowners to cash in by creating butterfly habitats on their property.

"We were down to 12 colonies (of heath fritillary) in 1995 and most of those were very small," says Dr. Martin Warren, chief executive of Butterfly Conservation, the organization behind the projects implementation.

"Since then we've been able to work with landowners to get the management back up again and we are now looking at 25 colonies in the same area."

See also: Butterfly farmers help protect threatened forests

The conservation scheme works by first sourcing locations where there are remnants of heath fritillary colonies.

Those who own the land identified during this process -- be they individuals, businesses or wildlife trusts -- are then approached for permission to carry out the conservation work.

We were down to 12 colonies (of heath fritillary) in 1995 and most of those were very small
Dr Martin Warren, Butterfly Conservation

This primarily consists of clearing the areas pinpointed of their indigenous plant life and repopulating them with the lighter foliage the heath fritillary requires to prosper.

If landowners agree to take part in the project, they are then able to sell on the discarded lumber that accumulates during the clearing and ensuing maintenance process at a profit.

See also: Brazil tries to balance farming and forests

"A lot of this is about persuasion," says Warren. "You have to deal with loads of different people who all have their own agenda and financial constraints."

"When you go in there and say 'there is a rare butterfly on your land' you can sometimes get a very bad response," he adds.

Although Warren admits the profit margins remain relatively small at this stage and that the scheme itself relies on grants from the Forestry Commission to break even, he sees potential for much larger projects in the future.

He says that there are currently numerous sites throughout the UK -- where nearly three quarters of butterfly species have seen their numbers decline in the last 10 years -- being scouted for their suitability by Butterfly Conservation.

There are also scores of endangered butterfly species across Europe that could benefit from the implementation of similar cleared woodland schemes, he adds.

See also: Can wooden skyscrapers transform concrete jungle?

"There are a whole suite of them (countries) where woodlands are not being managed to the detriment of butterflies," says Warren.

Yet despite his enthusiasm for the project, Warren cautions that there must be a balance struck between maintaining natural forest environments and manipulating their makeup through woodland clearing.

"We wouldn't advocate every woodland area be managed as there are many other species that depend on mature woodland to thrive," he says.

If an equilibrium between profit, species conservation and respecting natural forest ecosystems can be achieved however, all kinds of diverse forest wildlife could benefit, he adds.

Part of complete coverage on
January 21, 2013 -- Updated 0230 GMT (1030 HKT)
Patricia Wu looks at efforts to combat food waste in Hong Kong.
January 14, 2013 -- Updated 0233 GMT (1033 HKT)
CNN's Pauline Chiou goes to Hong Kong's annual toy fair to find out about the growing market for eco-friendly toys.
December 31, 2012 -- Updated 0415 GMT (1215 HKT)
CNN's Liz Neisloss reports on a roof that is only a sample of the greening of Singapore's skyline.
December 19, 2012 -- Updated 0216 GMT (1016 HKT)
A dam project in Cambodia could destroy livelihoods and ecosystems, says Conservation International
December 18, 2012 -- Updated 0322 GMT (1122 HKT)
Shipping lines, port authorities and technology companies are taking the initiative to go green and reduce costs.
December 10, 2012 -- Updated 0206 GMT (1006 HKT)
Less than 20 miles from Singapore's skyscrapers is a completely different set of high-rise towers.
December 6, 2012 -- Updated 1104 GMT (1904 HKT)
The Pitcairn Islands might only have 55 human inhabitants, but the waters surrounding them are teeming with marine life.
December 3, 2012 -- Updated 0322 GMT (1122 HKT)
Biofuel made from sugar cane waste in Brazil could revolutionize the global energy industry.
November 26, 2012 -- Updated 0258 GMT (1058 HKT)
Many believe that fuel-cell cars will overtake electric vehicles in the near future.
November 19, 2012 -- Updated 0820 GMT (1620 HKT)
Modern and sustainable buildings in the UAE are taking cues from an ancient Arabic design tradition.
November 12, 2012 -- Updated 0409 GMT (1209 HKT)
One man's artistic vision is distracting divers from Cancun's threatened underwater ecosystem.
November 12, 2012 -- Updated 1746 GMT (0146 HKT)
Lake Victoria, Africa's largest lake, has been plagued by water hyacinth plants for over two decades.
A turtle on Australia's Great Barrier Reef
Just how much are natural wonders like the Great Barrier Reef worth in monetary terms?