The butterflies return 30 years after their extinction in Britain

Great Britain - 30 years ago, the butterfly azuré wild thyme was officially extinct in Britain because of changing agricultural practices. But this blue butterfly is making a comeback. Approximately 20,000 specimens should fly in the countryside this summer through the efforts of scientists for the reintroduction of the species.

The blue thyme, Maculinea arion, is one of the most endangered species in the world. It can survive only on the well maintained slopes where a certain species of red ant is established.

Its decline was attributed to hunters of butterflies. But Jeremy Thomas of Oxford University has shown that the degradation of hillsides enherbés where the red ant lived is the cause of the disappearance of butterflies. In fact, the caterpillars make use of these ants to develop during 10 months before transforming itself into butterfly in spring.

Farmers have changed their farming practices and have agreed to raise livestock on the hillsides after the Second World War. The vegetation has invaded these areas thus affecting the development of ants and blue butterflies, deprived of their habitat, thus eventually disappeared completely in 1979.

Scientists began by rehabilitating grassy areas and reintroduce livestock. Then, in the eighties, butterflies were imported from Sweden and released in the maintained fields. This program was so successful that today, the butterflies are more numerous than in 50 years.

According to the study published in the journal Science, other animals have benefited from the reintroduction of the butterfly because in consequence, populations of rare birds, plants or other butterflies have rapidly increased.

Approximately 70% of the populations of butterflies decrease in Great Britain. But David Attenborough positive: "The reintroduction of the blue thyme in Great Britain is a great success, showing the power of research in ecology to reverse environmental damage."

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