September 2023: Halting the collapse and supporting the recovery of threatened insects in Wiltshire

Our Chalk Species Revival project gets the green light today (Thursday 14 September) with an incredible funding boost thanks to Natural England’s Species Recovery Programme. The project aims to halt the collapse and support the recovery of five threatened insect species that rely on the wildflower rich chalk grasslands of Wiltshire.

Katherine Ryan, Project Manager at the National Trust, one of the partners collaborating on the delivery of the project, updates us on what will happen next. 

Bright blue butterfly with wings partly open with a green background
Adonis blue butterfly (male) | ©National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

The creation of our Chalk Species Revival project is the result of a long-held ambition for many of the partners in the Wiltshire Chalk Partnership.  

Our chalk grassland habitats and the species that rely on them, need real help to improve their long-term chances of survival. Since the Second World War, over 80% of chalk grassland habitat in the UK has been lost and the effects of climate change are having a real impact on wildlife species. 

Marsh Fritillary, Large Blue, Adonis Blue and Duke of Burgundy butterflies and the enigmatically named Wart-biter Bush Cricket (the name derives from the age-old practice of allowing the crickets to nibble at warts to help remove them) are all vulnerable species in serious decline.  

Devil’s-bit scabious – the foodplant of the Marsh Fritillary butterfly | © National Trust Images/Clive Whitbourn

These species will benefit from the creation and enhancement of a mosaic of habitats, making more space and opportunities for them to thrive. The butterflies rely on these habitats for food plant species for their larvae, such as cowslips, Devil’s-bit scabious, horseshoe vetch and wild thyme.  

The Wart-biter Bush Cricket is one of England’s most endangered insects and this project will help increase its numbers on one of only a few sites where they’re still present in England.  

Project work for Chalk Species Revival will happen across various chalk grassland sites in Wiltshire, including National Trust land at Calstone and Cherhill Downs, a Wiltshire Wildlife Trust site at Morgan’s Hill, and land owned and managed by the Pewsey Downs Farmer Group as well as the RSPB’s Winterbourne Downs. 

Targeted efforts will support each species in their recovery. Using a mixture of habitat enhancement and creation, the project will create a more biodiverse landscape to help increase the resilience of existing populations of these insects.  

As the project progresses, there will be opportunities for people to become involved through volunteering and to find out more about the unique habitats and species on their doorstep. 

Light green insect holding onto a brown stalk on a light green background
Wart-biter Bush Cricket | © Oliver Cheesman

This project will also contribute to the Big Chalk agenda which aims to restore a mosaic of habitats across the calcareous (chalk and limestone) landscape of Southern England.  

Farmers, landholders and environmental organisations across Wiltshire have come together to make this project possible and we’re looking forward to making huge progress in our ambitions as the Wiltshire Chalk Partnership. It’s a real team effort and we’re all looking forward to seeing new and enhanced habitats on all the sites.  

Updates on the project as it progresses will be shared via our social media channels – Instagram and Twitter – and on these pages of our website.  

What is Natural England’s Species Recovery Programme?  

The Species Recovery Grant Programme is focused on reducing the risk of extinction and promoting the recovery of our most threatened species, especially through bespoke targeted action for these species. For more information visit the Natural England website.