Building firm provides £60,000 to protect rare butterfly species

A building firm working on a new housing estate in Sunderland has provided £60,000 to protect a rare butterfly species that has declined by about half over recent years.

Vistry Partnerships North East was working on a project to construct 56 homes on the former Ayton School site in Washington – developed in partnership with planning and design consultancy Barton Willmore and Sunderland City Council.

But before building could go ahead, ecologists from E3 Ecology were appointed to conduct a survey of the site and discovered evidence of the Dingy Skipper butterfly- protected in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981).

The butterfly is in severe decline with 48 per cent of them disappearing from UK habitats.

A fingertip search of a specific 20 square meter area revealed that butterfly larvae were hibernating inside the leaves of the grassland plants.

So in a bid to protect the larvae, the turf was carefully removed and transported to a specially prepared site, two miles away, alongside the Bowes Railway Local Wildlife Site, which will be monitored and managed for the next 20 years.

Vistry Partnerships North East provided nearly £60,000 to protect the Dingy Skipper butterfly and to enhance the natural woodland adjacent to a new Washington development.

Sunderland City’s Principal Ecologist, Claire Dewson said the butterflies seem to be enjoying their new home although due to the Covid-19 lockdown, full monitoring of the spring hatch and migration will have to wait until next year.

Mike Perkins, a Senior Ecologist with E3 Ecology, said: “Dingy Skipper is one of the rarest and most threatened butterfly species in the UK.

“This scheme, the innovative processes involved and the forward-thinking of Vistry Partnerships North East has shown that sustainable development and positive outcomes for our rarest species can be achieved whilst still delivering essential regeneration and housing requirements for the North East.”

The Dingy Skipper butterfly which is in severe decline
The Dingy Skipper butterfly which is in severe decline

Andrew Rennie, Development Director for Vistry Partnerships in the region, added: “There is much more to development and regeneration than the bricks and mortar.

“Investment to create or improve communities must also protect and enhance the environment in which we work. Being able to support – and hopefully protect – the Dingy Skipper Butterfly and encourage the biodiversity close to the housing development demonstrates our commitment to both of these important goals.”

In addition to the butterfly protection, the Ayton Park enhancement will include the planting of over 200 high diversity woodland species in the adjacent open spaces.

These include garlic mustard, ramsons, betony, nettle leaved bellflower, wild foxglove, bluebell, meadowsweet, hedge bedstraw amongst others.

Sam Thistlethwaite, associate planner at Barton Willmore, said: “The protection of habitats for rare species and support for ecological diversity is a brilliant example of how the planning process can be used to enhance the natural environment.

“With this project, we’ve been able to help Vistry Partnerships create an environmental legacy to be proud of.”

Councillor Kevin Johnston, deputy cabinet member for housing and regeneration at Sunderland City Council, added: “We’re delighted to be delivering developments in Sunderland with partners that are so focused on doing the right thing.

“As well as Vistry’s work to minimise the ecological impact of this development, the organisation is also doing a great deal to support the local community with a significant financial commitment that will help enhance community facilities in the area, as well as improving educational opportunities through support for the local school. This is a fantastic partnership with a socially responsible developer that we’re proud to work alongside.”

With grant support from Homes England – the government’s housing accelerator, which works to increase the number and speed of new homes of all tenures across the country – half of the 56 homes at Ayton will be available for shared ownership through Riverside Homes and half sold at market price by Linden Homes – Vistry’s housebuilding division.

The site was the former home of Ayton Primary School which closed more than a decade ago and will include a mix of two-storey detached, semi-detached and terraced properties with between two and four bedrooms.

Chronicle Live – Sunderland