Ash tree fungus threatens county butterfly

By Tim Clarke Friday 02 November 2012 Updated: 07/11 13:27

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Buy photos » Threat - The county’s population of Brown Hairstreak butterflies could be put at risk by the loss of ash trees. Picture by Peter Smith.

WORCESTERSHIRE’S population of a rare species of butterfly could be at risk if a fungus which kills ash trees reaches the county’s woodlands.

The Worcestershire Wildlife Trust (WWT) believes the spread of the devastating ash dieback disease would have a major impact on the county’s wildlife, including its colony of Brown Hairstreak butterflies.

Tens of thousands of trees are being felled and burned in Norfolk and Suffolk where cases of the disease have been found and the Government has banned ash imports in a bid to stop it spreading across the rest of the UK.

WWT conservation staff and volunteers are closely monitoring the county’s woodlands, which are rich in ash trees, amid growing fears the disease could eventually reach the county.

One of the WWT’s biggest concerns is the impact the loss of ash trees could have on the Midlands’ only colony of Brown Hairstreak butterflies, considered a rare UK species.

Their population has been rising in the county and in particular the Forest of Feckenham but the species tends to thrive around ash trees.

A WWT spokeswoman said: “Ash in Worcestershire’s woodlands provides really important habitat so the loss of these trees would have a huge impact from a wildlife point of view.

“These butterflies are quite rare and we are lucky to have them in the county.

“We have been working with butterfly conservation to help try and expand their range and numbers and we have been doing really well.

“But ash trees are really important to them, so if they started to die in the county it could see all that hard work dwindling away.”

David Dench, WWT head of conservation, said it was urging its members and supporters to report potential sightings of infected trees, in the hope the ecological impacts of the disease can be minimised.

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