The butterfly effect!

Partnerships North East is investing in local habitats to create ecological attractions for the community and to help a threatened butterfly to spread its wings.

Nearly £60,000 is being provided for two projects, the first to enhance the natural woodland adjacent to a new Washington development and the second to protect the Dingy Skipper butterfly, which is in severe decline.

As part  of a project to construct  56 homes on a former school site in Washington – developed in partnership with planning and design consultancy Barton Willmore and Sunderland City Council – over 200 high diversity woodland species are to be planted at Ayton Park.

In addition E3 Ecology Limited was appointed to conduct a survey of the site before work began, that identified evidence of the butterfly – protected in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981) – which has disappeared from 48% of UK habitats since then.

A fingertip search of a specific 20 square meter area revealed that butterfly larvae were hibernating inside the leaves of the grassland plants.  So, a plan was hatched to carefully remove the turf and transport it to a specially prepared site, two miles away, alongside the Bowes Railway Local Wildlife Site, which will be monitored and managed for the next 20 years.

And as the much needed new, mixed tenure homes take shape, the butterfly also appears to be enjoying its new environment, according to Sunderland City’s Principal Ecologist, Claire Dewson.  However, she points out that due to the COVID 19 lockdown, full monitoring of the spring hatch and migration will have to wait until next year.

Andrew Rennie, Development Director for Vistry Partnerships North, said:  “There is much more to development and regeneration than the bricks and mortar.  Investment to create or improve communities must also protect and enhance the environment in which we work.”

Mike Perkins, a Senior Ecologist with E3 Ecology, added:  “Dingy Skipper is one of the rarest and most threatened butterfly species in the UK. This scheme, the innovative processes involved and the forward thinking of Vistry Partnerships North East has shown that sustainable development and positive outcomes for our rarest species can be achieved whilst still delivering essential regeneration and housing requirements for the North East.”

The Ayton Park enhancement includes the planting of garlic mustard, ramsons, betony, nettle leaved bell flower, wild foxglove, bluebell, meadow sweet, hedge bedstraw, herb Robert, wood avens, hairy St. John’s wort, wood forget me not, wild primrose, self-heal, red campion, hedge woundwort, greater stitchwort, wood sage and upright hedge parsley.

Councillor Kevin Johnston, deputy cabinet member for housing and regeneration at Sunderland City Council, added: “We’re delighted to be delivering developments in Sunderland with partners that are so focused on doing the right thing. The organisation is doing a great deal to support the local community with a significant financial commitment that will help enhance community facilities in the area, as well as improving educational opportunities through support for the local school.  This is a fantastic partnership with a socially responsible developer that we’re proud to work alongside.”