Rare butterfly larva spotted in Clouts Wood

Protecting Wiltshire trees for the future at Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank

The larva of the elusive White Letter Hairstreak butterfly was spotted last week by The Conservation Foundation’s James Coleman and volunteer Alex Morley, who were collecting seed from wych elms from Clouts Wood, a reserve managed by the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust. Elm is the butterfly’s sole food plant and the species suffered as a result of Dutch elm disease. “A fantastic sighting,” says James.

The seed collection is part of a national project to protect the UK’s trees. The Conservation Foundation is the latest organisation to join the UK National Tree Seed Project, which has been set up by Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank, and made possible with funding generated by players of People’s Postcode Lottery.

The Clouts Wood seed collection is part of The Great British Elm Experiment, a nationwide project by The Conservation Foundation to unlock the mystery of why some elms survived Dutch elm disease. Schools, community groups and individuals are all growing on young elm saplings propagated from mature trees around the UK that seem to have resisted the disease.

Tree seeds collected as part of the National Tree Seed Project will be safely banked in the underground vaults of Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank – forming the UK’s first national collection of tree seeds. These can then play a vital role in conservation work to protect UK trees and woodlands, including against pests and diseases such as ash dieback. The collections, and associated data, will be available to research organisations working on solutions to tackle the many threats facing our woodlands.

David Shreeve, director of The Conservation Foundation, which he founded in 1982 with conservationist David Bellamy, says “We want to interest a new generation in the elm, so much a feature of the British life and landscape for centuries and also to try and find out why some trees survived Dutch elm disease. Collecting the seeds as part of the UK National Tree Seed project will help to safeguard important specimens of the UK’s elm population.”

Clare Trivedi, UK National Tree Seed Project Co-ordinator, says, “Almost all of the nation’s favourite trees species – from oak to ash to beech – are affected by a variety of pests and diseases. We are thrilled that The Conservation Foundation has joined the UK National Tree Seed Project. This project is really important for the future of our trees, wildlife and landscape – but we cannot do it all by ourselves. Contributions from partners such as The Conservation Foundation are absolutely vital to help us ensure all areas across the UK are covered.”

The UK National Tree Seed Project launched in May 2013 with a list of 50 priority trees and shrubs targeted for collection. This priority list gave ranking to individual species according to conservation ratings, prevalence in the landscape, vulnerability to pests and diseases as well as their native status. Species on the list include ash, common juniper, Scots pine, common alder, common beech, silver birch and yew.