Impact of game bird release on the Adonis blue butterfly Polyommatus bellargus (Lepidoptera Lycaenidae) on chalk grassland
Polyommatus bellargus is a priority species of butterfly in the UK as a result of its scarcity and the rate of population decline over the last few years. In the UK, the species is associated with chalk grassland on hot, south-facing slopes suitable for the growth of the food plant Hippocrepis comosa. Shooting game birds is a popular pastime in the UK. Over 40 million game birds, principally Phasianus colchicus and Alectoris rufa, are bred and released into the countryside each year for shooting interests. There is a concern that the release of such a large number of non-native birds has an adverse effect on native wildlife. A study was carried out over a period of 3 years to examine whether there was any evidence that A. rufa released into chalk grassland habitat negatively affects populations of P. bellargus. A comparison was made between sites where large numbers of A. Rufa were released versus sites where no, or few, birds were released. The study involved the construction of exclosures in these sites to allow an examination of the number of butterflies emerging from H. comosa when the birds were excluded versus when the birds had free range across the area. Where birds were present the on-site vegetation was shorter than where they were absent indicating that the birds were definitely influencing habitat structure. However, the evidence that A. rufa was negatively influencing the number of adult butterflies emerging was not strong, although there was a largely non-significant tendency for higher butterfly emergence when the birds were excluded or absent.