Manchester argus flies back to the mosslands after 150 years

The large heath butterfly is one of the species we're reintroducing in the Great Manchester Wetlands. Photo: Steve Rawlins - Chester Zoo

A butterfly that has been extinct in Manchester since 1850 will return to the area once more, with help from our dedicated conservationists, volunteers and partners.

The Manchester argus (or large heath) butterfly disappeared from mosslands just outside the city more than 150 years ago. First discovered on Chat Moss, it deserves its place back in Manchester. The GM Wetlands Species Reintroduction Project will bring these wonderful butterflies back to these mosslands over the next few years.

Our butterfly reintroduction is part of a wider reintroduction scheme of native plants and insects onto mosses which are vitally important for wildlife and the environment.

Mosslands (lowland raised mire) have suffered a 98 per cent decline in the North West. The remaining fragmented landscape is missing key species because of development, drainage, peat extraction and fragmentation. These species are unlikely to recolonise naturally.

The Manchester argus has been locally extinct for more than 150 years

Our species reintroduction project, centring on the Manchester Mosslands SAC, is on a landscape scale. In Partnership we will deliver sustainable reintroductions of key species historically found on the mosslands, including plants and butterflies that are reliant on the habitat and are found nowhere else.

Along with a programme of re-wetting the mosslands, the plant introductions provide a strong base from which species like the large heath butterfly, locally called the Manchester argus, can be reintroduced.

While varieties of plants like the carnivorous sundew, sphagnum moss and cotton grass have started their return, they still need some help from our teams, while other plants need to be reintroduced after years away from this their rightful home.

Over the length of this long-term project, which started in 2018, other species like the white-faced darter dragonfly, the bog bush cricket and reptiles like the grass snake will add to the list of returnees.

Close-up of a grass snake resting in the grass

Grass snake by Danny Green/2020VISION

This project is working within the Great Manchester Wetlands Nature Improvement Area (GM Wetlands NIA). It is a collaboration between Lancashire Wildlife Trust, Cheshire Wildlife Trust, Natural England, North West Rare Plant Initiative, Warrington Borough Council, Wigan Borough Council, Salford City Council, Manchester Metropolitan University, Liverpool John Moores University, Chester Zoo, RSPB, and Butterfly Conservation, with funding support from Veolia Environmental Trust.

North West Rare Plant Initiative is currently helping with re-introductions of rare plants such as oblong-leaved sundew and white beak sedge, that would have thrived on the historic expanses of lowland raised bog that covered the area before drainage and peat cutting decimated it.

Mosslands have suffered a 98 per cent decline in the North West

This year (2019) the group will be starting the project, working with Chester Zoo, to rear and release the Manchester argus (large heath) butterfly within the Manchester Mosslands area, where it has been locally extinct for more than 150 years.

This project is helping to implement the GM Wetlands vision of delivering a thriving, resilient and inspirational living landscape, that is an exemplar of biodiversity restoration and enhancement.

The project is only possible because of years of successful work by many partners to restore the incredibly rare and valuable wetlands habitats in the GM Wetlands NIA.