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Kidney Vetch Links Ayrshire Golf Courses for Small Blue conservation

Wednesday, March 4th, 2015

An ambitious wildlife conservation project to reinstate Scotland’s smallest butterfly back onto the western coast has recently been launched by the Ayrshire Sustainability Group.  Stretching from Irvine in the north, to Girvan in the south, the project aims to create a semi-continuous corridor of Kidney Vetch habitats in which the Small Blue butterfly can once again thrive.

The Small Blue (Cupido minimus) is Scotland’s smallest resident butterfly.  With a wingspan often not exceeding 16mm, its small size makes it vulnerable to local climatic and habitat changes.  Although it is classed as not threatened, the Small Blue’s status throughout the UK is declining, with the main colonies being located in the south of England and northwest of Scotland where its only food plant, Kidney Vetch, grows within calcareous grasslands and coastal sand dune systems.

Rare Small blue

The conservation project, which is being supported by seven Ayrshire golf clubs, local businesses and the Scottish Wildlife Trust, has been implemented following the release of a colony of Small Blue butterflies at Dundonald Links.  It is hoped that by establishing Kidney Vetch at each of the participating sites, this isolated colony will be able to expand and establish itself along the project area’s 35 miles of coastline.

“With the number of Small Blues currently in decline throughout the UK, Dundonald Links was keen to reintroduce a colony of these iconic butterflies back to the coast of Ayrshire,” explains Amanda Dorans, greenkeeper at Dundonald Links.  “Key to establishing a viable population is the creation and management of good quality, varied grasslands that provide shelter for the adults, and, where early successional conditions are appropriate, for the establishment of Kidney Vetch.

“By working with other golf courses and local companies, we hope to establish a chain of connected environments which will enable the initial colony to thrive and expand.  The success of the project was dependent on finding a source of high quality Kidney Vetch seed, and we are pleased to have been supported by Germinal who donated enough seed to create a suitable environment at the Dundonald release site.”

“Kidney Vetch is very short-lived and a poor competitor, but is an essential part of creating the right environment to support the full life-cycle of the Small Blue,” explains Alistair Eccles, Technical Sales Representative for Germinal in Scotland.

“The successful establishment of a habitat rich with Kidney Vetch requires open ground conditions, a lack of competition and quality seed of a known local provenance.  We were therefore delighted to be able to support the conservation project, and look forward to keeping up to date with the colony’s progress as it hopefully spreads along the Ayrshire coast.”