The R&A - Working for Golf

UK's smallest butterfly given space to spread its wings on Ayrshire links

A butterfly that had previously disappeared from Ayrshire has returned to the area after greenkeepers introduced one of its favourite foods to local links golf courses.

The habitat for the UK’s smallest butterfly, the small blue, is expanding along the Ayrshire coast thanks to the project led by the Scottish Wildlife Trust in partnership with Butterfly Conservation Scotland and local links golf courses with the support of The R&A.

The small blue butterfly, a priority species in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan, had been completely absent from Ayrshire since the 1980s.

However, the species has bred successfully for the third year in a row on the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s Gailes Marsh reserve and neighbouring Dundonald Links this summer after work was carried out to create large areas of kidney vetch, the small blue’s only food plant, and a carefully managed translocation in 2013.

Greenkeepers on a number of links courses south of Irvine have now sown kidney vetch and others are following suit later in the year, giving the butterfly a larger area to colonise. Kidney vetch thrives on sandy soil so the courses on the Ayrshire coast are ideally suited for it to thrive.

The small blue butterfly is a priority species in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan. Butterfly Conservation
The small blue butterfly is a priority species in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan. Butterfly Conservation

“The settled weather of the early summer was ideal for seeing small blues on the wing this year,” said Paul Kirkland of Butterfly Conservation Scotland.

“Our members observed them mating and laying eggs almost daily and we are very hopeful that this small population will spread and grow as their habitat expands.”

The R&A is supporting the habitat enhancement work with £33,000 of funding from 2015 to 2018. Steve Isaac, Director of Golf Course Management atThe R&A, said, “The continued success of the small blue is exciting news and an example of how golf courses can help protect and conserve wildlife.

“Golf courses have tremendous potential in this regard and it is good to see the greenkeepers of the Ayrshire coast working closely with the Scottish Wildlife Trust and Butterfly Conservation Scotland to provide safe havens for pollinators.”

Gill Smart, Reserves Manager, Scottish Wildlife Trust commented, “It’s fantastic that the small blue has continued to breed successfully but the population in Ayrshire is still small and vulnerable.

“Increasing their habitat by planting kidney vetch on the golf courses south of Irvine provides the small blue butterflies with room to move and spread across the landscape, giving them a very strong chance of long-term survival.”