Saturday, 19 February 2011

Rare butterfly 'at risk' from Sutton playground plans

7:30am Friday 4th February 2011
By Matt Watts

It measures only 16mm in length but this tiny butterfly may scupper plans to build a children’s playground on a nature reserve.

Sutton councillors and parents want to put a playground in the Devonshire Avenue Local Nature Reserve in Sutton.

But environmental campaigners warned it would be a serious risk to one of the few habitats in London for one of the UK’s rarest butterflies – the small blue butterfly – and want the plans scrapped.

Joanne Porter, chairman of the Sutton Nature Conservation Volunteers, said: “It’s very concerning because it’s one of the most important habitats for one of the UK’s rarest butterflies.”

She said she understood the need for play facilities in the area but wanted to continue to work with the council to find a solution to the issue.

Her worries were backed by Sutton Council environmental officers, who in a report to a council committee said the playground should be “a last resort” because “there is a risk the habitat could deteriorate to the extent that the species may be lost”.

But chairman of the Sutton South, Cheam and Belmont Local Committee Councillor Tony Shields said the play facility was essential because there was no playground anywhere else in Sutton South ward, in an area where 50 per cent of properties did not have a back garden.

He said: “We all want to protect wildlife and we believe putting one piece of equipment in the habitat will not be a problem and will bring more people to enjoy the nature reserve.”

He said the plans also had the backing of nearby Devonshire Primary School and parents of pupils there.

At a committee meeting on Thursday it voted to pursue plans for the play equipment, despite the objections.

Sutton also has another habitat for the blue butterfly.

The Avenue Primary School Nature Garden, is also said to contain a small but unstable population of the species.

FACT FILE: Small blue butterly - Cupido minimus
  • Britain’s smallest resident butterfly with a wing span that can be a little as 16mm.
  • Colonies are isolated and it is only found in small pockets of sometimes less than 30 adults
  • Numbers have plummeted in recent years due to loss of chalk grassland habitats.
  • It feeds on kidney vetch plants, which only grow on poor nutrient, alkaline soils.
  • Despite its name it is not particularly blue as its wings are a dark smokey-brown.

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