IT’S one of the south’s most threatened species.

Now a campaign has been launched to protect this rare butterfly’s last remaining strongholds in Hampshire.

The Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary was once widespread across the South East but is now confined to a few small areas in the New Forest in Hampshire.

The New Forest Fritillaries Project run by Butterfly Conservation, the Forestry Commission and Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust will improve existing habitat and create new areas for the butterfly.

It is hoped the project will enable the butterfly to avoid regional extinction and provide information about the impact of our changing environment on wildlife.

The population and habitats of the Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary will be monitored long-term as part of the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme.

Steve Wheatley, BC’s senior regional officer said: “This could be the last chance to save the Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary in the South East.

“I live in Sussex and it used to be a short bike ride to see this beautiful butterfly flying in woodland. Now it’s a two-hour drive and soon it could be even further away – too far for my children to experience, other than on special trips.”

One of the reasons thought to lie behind the butterfly’s decline is the drying out of woodlands, likely to be a result of climate change.

The increase in sudden and unseasonable deluges can also result in the drowning of the Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary caterpillars.

Changes in post-war woodland management might also have affected the butterfly, with small-scale habitat niche’s being lost as woodland management has become increasingly mechanised.

The New Forest Fritillaries project, funded by Biffa Award and the Dulverton Trust among others, will carry out research to examine these impacts and find out how to reverse them to slow down declines.

The Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary has managed to cling on in a few New Forest inclosures where small-scale sensitive management takes place.

John Durnell of the Hampshire Wildlife Trust said: “We see this delivering important biodiversity benefits for Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary and other wildlife dependent on these habitats.”

New volunteers are welcomed and are encouraged to get involved in searches for the butterfly, surveying habitats and helping to create new habitat.