A conservationist has painstakingly hand-rescued more than 500 rare caterpillars from the Devon quarry which they inhabit, after the site was scheduled for redevelopment.
It is hoped that as spring arrives in the coming weeks, the caterpillars will metamorphosise into Small Blue butterflies – one of the rarest in the UK.
Over a period of four weeks last summer, Amanda Hunter, 59, spent hours spotting the butterflies, which are some of the country’s smallest breeds, growing at the abandoned quarry in Torbay.
UK wildlife winners and losers
UK wildlife winners and losers
Slugs: they thrive in warm, damp conditions and had a great winter
Mediterranean birds: with spring coming early, a number of birds associated with the Med made rare appearances over the summer, including glossy ibises (pictured) and bee-eaters
Mediterranean birds: with spring coming early, a number of birds associated with the Med made rare appearances over the summer, including glossy ibises and bee-eaters (pictured)
Biting insects: the warm summer across Europe drove an influx of butterflies, moths, dragonflies, hoverflies and ladybirds to the UK. This is because the increased competition for food in warmer parts of the continent forced the insects to disperse in search of new supplies, while the rising temperatures made areas in the UK hospitable that would normally be too cold
Trees: thousands of trees around the country were damaged and uprooted as gales buffeted the UK last winter
Seals: some 35 seals have been found dead on the beaches of Cornwall in the past two months, almost twice the normal rate. Although the bad weather is thought to have played a part, the extent of the death toll remains a mystery
Fungi: had a bad year on account of the dry September and the slugs, who were out in force as a result of October’s rain
Torbay is a stronghold for the Small Blues, where they are often found on cliffs and quarries, while numbers fluctuate due to weather and availability of the caterpillar food plant: kidney vetch.
When Ms Hunter heard in late 2013 that the quarry was to be redeveloped, she convinced planners and the site’s owner to delay work until summer 2014 to allow the caterpillars to finish their hibernation, pupate and emerge as butterflies this spring.
Government wildlife agency Natural England then agreed that the caterpillars could be distributed between the main Torbay colony, and the smaller colony at Berry Head National Nature Reserve.
"As I live in Torbay I'm really keen to ensure this special butterfly can continue to thrive here too," Ms Hunter, a member of Butterfly Conservation Devon Branch, said.
"Our wonderful wildlife in Torbay is appreciated by locals and tourists alike.
"Wildlife habitat is all too easily lost to industry or housing needs and sometimes helping local species to survive does involve difficult decisions.
"I'm so pleased that everyone involved in this project was able to work together and I believe we have made a real difference here for the Small Blue and for conservation in Torbay," she said.
Noel Hughes, countryside officer for TCCT, said: "We won't know whether this rescue translocation has been successful or not until summer 2015 but we are all doing everything possible to help this rare species.
"I hope that in summers to come members of the public may be able to catch a glimpse of this elusive butterfly in the Berry Head National Nature Reserve."
Julie Jamieson, head of ecology and conservation at the site's lease holders, Hi-Line, added: "We were really glad to support local conservation and were thrilled when Amanda told us that so many larvae had been rescued."
Ms Hunter won a Butterfly Conservation Outstanding Volunteer Award for her efforts to save this colony of Small Blues in November 2014.
Additional reporting by PA