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Saving our scrub superheroes

By Weald to Waves - 02 March 2023

Britain’s wildlife is in a harrowing state. We are now one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world.

One in six birds has been lost since the 1980s and the crisis is gathering pace. Over the past five years, 80% of butterflies have declined in the UK. Half of all Britain’s remaining butterfly species are now at risk of extinction.

Reintroductions and reinforcements of lost and vulnerable species is a critical part of nature recovery. We are delighted to be researching the feasibility of reintroducing a range of lost species as part of the corridor.

The Black-veined White butterfly became extinct in the UK in the early 1920s. One of its strongholds was here in South East England. Research suggests that extinction in the UK may have primarily been due to climate change, including a long run of wet Septembers.

The Black-veined White caterpillars feed primarily on Blackthorn and Hawthorn. The adults are avid pollinators. We are carrying out a landscape mapping exercise to identify suitable habitat patches within the corridor.

This work may be integrated within efforts to return other lost scrubland species, including the Red-backed Shrike.

This little Red-List bird is now effectively extinct as a breeding bird in the UK. Once a common among our scrub in Sussex, the Shrike (similar in size to a sparrow) behaves like a tiny raptor. They hunt from perches to catch insects on the wing or spear unlucky amphibians and even small mammals from above. Their prey is then impaled on thorns or even barbed wire, or tucked into the fork of a tree or bush to be eaten later. This has given rise to its nickname "butcherbird" or "thorn bird".

As with so many of our lost species, the removal of hedges, shrubs, and field margins, along with the rise in pesticides, has obliterated both habitat and food sources for the Red-backed Shrike. By reinstating wild edges and pockets of scrub we hope to be able to restore this habitat and facilitate the return of this little ninja.

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