(Photo: Duke of Burgundy at Blue Lagoon Local Nature Reserve © Martin Kincaid)
The Duke of Burgundy Hamearis Lucina is the only European member of a large family of butterflies known as metalmarks – the Riodininae. In South America, these butterflies can be found in great diversity and numbers and species typically have iridescent, metallic colouring or patches on their upper wings. By contrast, the Duke of Burgundy is a rather modest insect with its chequered brown and black wings.
In England, this is an insect of sheltered, sunny hillsides and woodland clearings with abundant primrose or cowslip, which are its two larval foodplants. It has suffered a serious decline in Britain and is now considered a very rare species thinly distributed across southern England. However, a strong population is present at Totternhoe Knolls and Totternhoe Quarry and there are several populations in the Chiltern Hills. The species was lost at BBOWT’s Dancersend reserve but a re-introduction project, led by Mick Jones, is underway.
In early Summer 2018, a local naturalist told me that he had seen several Dukes (the popular shorthand) at Blue Lagoon LNR. Although I know Kevin to be knowledgeable about butterflies, I was sceptical at first and failed to find any when I visited Blue Lagoon in good weather. I did find the Latticed Heath moth, which is quite similar in appearance from a distance. I didn’t forget though and was delighted to find 3 Duke of Burgundy here on 26th May 2019 (rather late in their short flight season). One of these was clearly a male, typically aggressive towards any other passing butterflies and insects. They are pugnacious little creatures and will defend their favourite perch from anything that flies past. I was able to photograph both male and female Duke of Burgundy on this visit. The flight season in 2020 coincided with the first national Covid lockdown and although the weather was good throughout April I did not visit. Eventually, I did get to Blue Lagoon on 21st May. I did wonder if I might be too late given the high temperatures last spring, but fortunately I was able to locate two butterflies quite quickly. The area favoured by the Dukes seems to be the scrubby grassland to the south-east of the main pit.
Sadly, much of the habitat at Blue Lagoon has suffered in recent years from a lack of management. Several plant species have declined or been lost and with them some of the butterflies for which the site was known. The Green Hairstreak is still present but hard to find, the Small Blue much less frequent than in the past and the Grizzled Skipper has possibly disappeared. The discovery of the rare Duke of Burgundy is at least some compensation for these declines but it is crucial that management of the scrub resumes in the near future if one of Milton Keynes’ best spots for Lepidtoptera is to recover.
There are no records for Duke of Burgundy for Milton Keynes before 2018. It is possible that the species found its way here naturally from Totterhoe but we can’t rule out an unlicensed release.
February 1st 2021