Another 0.5 ha of flowering meadows for rare butterflies!

Spring 2023

Summer butterflies

The spring is slowly turning into summer at our project site in Slovakia where we are restoring rare butterfly habitats with the help of a four-legged grazing team!

The typical summer butterflies of this region are starting to appear: The Silver-studded Blue (Plebejus agrus) is already in full flight and others such as the Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus), Adonis Blue (Polyommatus bellargus) and The Glanville fritillary (Melitaea cinxia) are starting to join the butterfly bonanza.

Our local partners have been busy over the winter clearing another 0.5 ha of shrubs and non-native trees to open more space for meadow restoration. The focus of this year’s grazing season is to improve the areas cleared over the past two winters and create a diverse mosaic of butterfly habitats: flowering meadows, open oak woodlands and dry xerotherm rocky slopes.

Polyommatus slovacus
Polyommatus slovacus

Why are we clearing overgrowth and bringing in grazers?

A third of butterfly populations are stated on the European Red List as in decline since 2009. To preserve these beautiful species and their rich biodiversity, we need to look at the strong bond between butterflies and their host plants. Some species of butterfly are monophagous, meaning they rely solely on a certain plant species to lay their eggs for their larvae to feed on. Therefore, to create conditions for these butterflies, we must consider the conditions their host plants thrive in.

Transformational power

Just two years into the project we are already seeing the transformational power of a few saw chains and a 70-strong squad of sheep and goats that:

  • keep woody vegetation at bay
  • open new niches for plant specialists
  • make further contributions to these grasslands in the form of their dung

We've seen leguminous plants appear on the recently cleared areas, showing that the flowering seed bank is still present and the dormant seeds are ready to cease the opportunity as soon as sunlight hits the soil. The presence of these plants is good news for our butterflies but to boost the diversity further, the local team has also been enriching the areas with other herbs such as Hylotelephium maximum, a food plant for The Chequered Blue (Scolitantides orion).

Other flowering plants are also benefiting from the improved conditions brought about by the grazers. Orchids and Adonis have gone off the charts at the extensively grazed sites compared to the mowed areas, where their presence is very sporadic.

You can see the difference in the photo below with a mowed area on the left and a grazed area on the right.

Dung beetles flock in

Apart from the pollinators, many other insect species have much to gain from the presence of the grazing animals, namely dung beetles. Lubo, a butterfly specialist and the local project manager explains why:

"The spring emergence of dung beetles was an experience this year. We use nature-friendly deworming medicine in our herds so there is a lot of interest from the dung beetles in our organic dung! The result is we now have dung beetles by the kilos!"