A RARE butterfly is returning to the Malvern Hills.

In 1886 the Malvern Field Naturalists Club recorded 46 species of butterflies around the hills.

By the 1960s the number had fallen to 40 and only 32 were recorded in 2000.

Numbers within individual species had fallen catastrophically too.

But all is not lost!

Mel Mason from West Midlands Butterfly Conservation told members of the Worcestershire Wildlife Trust that a number of important initiatives to bring back many of our lost species are underway.

Mel talked to members of the Malvern group at their meeting on February 1 about The Malvern Hills Lost Fritillaries Project.

The pearl-bordered fritillary was widespread on the hills up to the 1970s but it is now the second most-at-risk butterfly in Great Britain.

Mel, with the help of local volunteers, has set up three separate sites on the hills for the butterfly’s reintroduction and two more in Gloucestershire and Herefordshire.

All are within flight range of the pearl bordered and other fritillaries, allowing populations to move from one site to another if any location is under threat.

Discussions with the Malvern Hills Trust and local landowners led to the site environments being managed for the fritillaries.

Instead of grazing, bracken is allowed to grow and then cut when mature.

The resulting bracken litter provides shelter for the caterpillars and encourages the growth of their favourite food plant - common dog violets.

The adult fritillaries feed on nectar from the flowers of common bugloss and bluebells.

Because insufficient adults of this rare species could be found in the wild to populate the sites, Mel launched his own breeding programme.

Now his house has been taken over by tubs filled with eggs, caterpillars and adult fritillaries and, despite many setbacks, more than 100 butterflies have been reared from an original four females and released into the wild.

To feed the caterpillars a network of volunteers is growing hundreds of dog violets.

To protect the growing caterpillars from disease and predators such as parasitic wasps, slugs and lacewings, everything must be sterilised.

The flowers are washed in detergent solution, planted in sterilised compost and shelter is provided by microwaved oak leaves.

Mel now describes his home as a luxury hotel for fritillaries.

His vision is to create more sites and link them up to provide a wildlife corridor stretching from the Malvern Hills to the woods of Wyre Forest allowing populations of this threatened creature to expand.

The next meeting of the Malvern group of the Worcestershire Wildlife Trust will be held on Thursday, March 7 at The Lyttelton Rooms, Church Street, when the subject will be the work of the Vale Heritage Landscape Trust.