Mellicta athalia

Range & Status

Once locally abundant across south-west and south-east England, now restricted to Essex and Kent in the south-east and Exmoor, west Devon and east Cornwall in the south-west. Populations have declined by 46% in the last ten years to 2004 although the latest report (Fox et al ., 2006) is optimistic that it is about to be reversed with active management and re-introductions. Occurs all over Europe, across Russia and Asia to Japan, but declining in twelve European countries. (Asher et al ., 2001).

Regional Distribution

In Cornwall restricted to two nearby sites at Luckett, East Cornwall. It became extinct at Greenscombe Wood in 2002 and was re-introduced in 2006.

Habitat & Ecology

Nationally occurs on sheltered, warm and sunny habitats in valleys, coppiced or recently felled woodlands and unimproved grassland. In Cornwall, two main habitats are used: grassland and woodland. It breeds in herb-rich grassland where the main foodplants are Ribwort Plantain Plantago lanceolata and Germander Speedwell Veronica chamaedrys growing in open, warm conditions. Here, one small colony survives on a 0.5 ha slope of felled woodland which is kept clear by volunteers. The second colony occurs in cleared woodland growing on old strawberry beds and nearby coppice \endash this colony became extinct in 2002. Heath Fritillaries were reintroduced here in 2006 with stock from Lydford in Devon which was itself colonised with stock taken from this site.

Threats

Cessation of coppicing in woodland, or allowing scub to encroach, with resulting shading out of foodplants and larvae. The Cornish populations are too small to allow movement from place to place if conditions become unsuitable on the existing sites.

Conservation

Volunteer work parties at Deer Park keep this very small site clear of scrub. The area around the two colonies needs to be managed long term with a series of coppicing and clear fells to maintain suitable habitats and to enable the colonies to grow and mix. Coppicing needs to occur next to a colony and not some distance away has as happened in the past. A UK BAP priority species.