By Gordon Dyne
Butterfly Conservation East Midlands BCEM has been working in close partnership with Great Central Railway (Nottingham) (GCR(N) and Nottinghamshire Biodiversity Action Group (Notts BAG) to improve the line-side habitat for a nationally important species of butterfly, the grizzled skipper.
Since initial work to clear areas of scrub was undertaken by a contractor back in 2012, a series of volunteer work parties– the grizzled skipper work parties – have taken place annually.
The work parties have been incredibly popular and have regularly pulled in over 20 volunteers for each session.
As a result, these have enabled the areas that were cleared back in 2012 to be kept free of scrub and, in addition, new areas have been opened up annually.
Work has focused on the three main areas where grizzled skipper butterflies are known to frequent; the cutting south of Rushcliffe Halt, the cutting south of East Leake Station and the cutting south of Barnstone Tunnel.
The partnership with Butterfly Conservation has also enabled GCRN to get more funding to manage the areas of habitat either side of the track bed.
In 2018, BC were able to spend a donation from the Rempstone Steam Festival on yet more work to be undertaken opening out the area of grassland in the cutting south of Barnstone Tunnel.
In addition to scrub clearance work, other more specific habitat enhancement work has been undertaken along the line too.
Grizzled skipper butterflies are very particular about their egg-laying requirements, preferring areas of bare ground on which the caterpillars’ foodplant grows.
Railway ballast creates a good area of bare ground and therefore in 2015 extra ballast was installed at strategic locations within the cuttings.
Strawberry and creeping cinquefoil were subsequently planted into these piles of ballast, creating perfect locations for the next generation of grizzled skipper to enjoy.
The results of all this great work has been observed in recent years by the number of butterflies being recorded along the line since 2012.
In 2018, the highest number of grizzled skipper butterflies – in one single visit – were recorded in the cutting south of Barnstone Tunnel.
In addition, surveys on the installed ballast piles have recorded good numbers of grizzled skipper eggs and larvae since 2016.
During the same period that we have been recording positive results for the grizzled skipper in Nottinghamshire, Butterfly Conservation have recently reported that in 2017, grizzled skipper numbers nationally were at their lowest ever on record.
In addition, they reported that grizzled skipper numbers had declined by more than half since the 1970’s.
The project along the GCR(N) is a great example of what can be achieved when different organisations with a common goal work closely together.
The railway is improving all the time not just for grizzled skipper but for a whole host of invertebrate species.
At the same time, the line-side habitat is changing to look more like it was when the great central railway was in its heyday, with many more areas of open grassland.
Anyone wishing to find out more about the Grizzled Skipper, or wishing to become involved in future volunteer work parties or surveys at the site, can contact Chris Jackson, the Notts BAG biodiversity officer, on 0115 993 2588or by emailing .