Green spaces in the skies: saving Edinburgh’s butterfly

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On a chilly November morning, myself and colleague Dr Andrew Kitchener attended the campaign launch for a ‘Square Metre for Butterflies’, a fantastic collaborative project run by Butterfly Conservation Scotland and the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh (RBGE). This new initiative hopes to create more green spaces across Edinburgh and suitable habitat to support Aricia artaxerxes, the Northern Brown Argus butterfly.

Edinburgh's Butterfly - the Northern Brown Argus
Edinburgh’s Butterfly – the Northern Brown Argus © Butterfly Conservation.

The Northern Brown Argus is a small butterfly, with brown wings fringed with orange markings and a characteristic white dot in the centre of each forewing. Now often referred to as Edinburgh’s butterfly, this species was described in 1793 from a specimen collected on our very own Arthur’s Seat. Sadly, changes in land use at Holyrood Park, coupled with collecting, meant that the species had disappeared from the site by 1869. Yet, incredibly, it reappeared in Holyrood Park in 2005 and the population has been steadily increasing.

The launch, delivered by Anthony McCluskey (Butterfly Conservation Scotland), Leonie Alexander (RBGE) & Hamish Torrie (Glenmorangie).
The launch, delivered by Anthony McCluskey (Butterfly Conservation Scotland), Leonie Alexander (RBGE) & Hamish Torrie (Glenmorangie).

The project aims to help the population of Edinburgh’s butterfly increase and expand its range into new areas of the city, by creating more green roofs. Green roofs are a fantastic resource for our urban wildlife and can act as stepping stones to help many insects move across the city. The caterpillars of this species feed on Helianthemum nummularium, also known as Common Rock-rose. More suitable habitat can be made available to this butterfly by planting more of its required food plant, especially on sites close to Holyrood Park. The launch of this project was hosted by Glenmorangie, at their headquarters, not far from the park. They are strong supporters of the initiative and, with their own green roof already flourishing, they are great advocates for a ‘Square Metre for Butterflies’.

The Glenmorangie roof terrace
The Glenmorangie roof garden.
A specimen of Aricia artaxerxes from our collection
A specimen of Aricia artaxerxes from our collection.

We are fortunate that we already have a roof garden at the National Museum of Scotland, and even have some Common Rock-rose growing there! We shall be monitoring the garden closely next summer to see if we are lucky enough to host this lovely butterfly.

Do you have a garden, a roof terrace or even a window box? You too could help encourage Edinburgh’s butterfly by planting Common Rock-rose. For more information on the project visit the Butterfly Conservation website.

If you’d like to hear more about the current work from the Natural Sciences team follow us on Twitter: @NatSciNMS.

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