Violet Copper (Lycaena helle)

© Albert Vliegenthart

The Violet Copper butterfly (Lycaena helle) requires marshes and wet grassland areas sheltered from strong winds, and the presence of bistort, its only larval food plant. Over most of Europe, its population has declined greatly, becoming extinct in some countries, mainly due to human-induced pressures such as agricultural intensification and the loss of wet grassland habitats. In Luxembourg, the Eislek LIFE project carried out restoration of suitable grassland and wetland habitats in eleven Natura 2000 sites. Actions taken under the project included the clearance of shrubs and trees, restoration of meadows, measures to support the mowing and grazing of grasslands and the development of Natura 2000 management plans for key sites. Consultations were also held with farmers and management measures extended for grassland habitats through the development of agri-environment contracts. Overall, the project successfully restored 60.75 ha of habitat, with additional benefits for other local species.

Challenges addressed

The most severe threats to the species are modification of cultivation practices, mowing or cutting of grasslands, vegetation succession and other ecosystem changes. In addition, the small and isolated nature of Central European populations make it hard for the species to recolonise former sites.

The main pressures on the Violet Copper in Luxembourg include grassland removal and land drainage (i.e. conversion) for arable land, intensive grazing, reduction in dispersal, agricultural intensification, intensive mowing or intensification, and fertilisation. Of these, land drainage and agricultural improvements are considered to be the most important. For example, agricultural abandonment allows natural succession that leads to overgrown meadows with rough vegetation and, over time, trees and shrubs which results in the loss of suitable habitat for the species.

Habitats such as wet meadows with Marsh Marigold (Calthion palustris) associations, as well as marshes and poor fens, were the most suitable for the species within the country. Wet meadows with Marsh Marigold associations are mostly in favourable condition (69% of habitat area), but a much smaller proportion of marshes and poor fens have a favourable condition (24%). Furthermore, as the species is restricted to north western Luxembourg where these habitats are mostly in unfavourable-bad condition, experts have agreed that the quality of the habitat for the Violet Copper in Luxembourg is bad.

Objectives

The LIFE project Eislek (LIFE11 NAT/LU/000858) “Restoration of wetlands and associated endangered species in the Eislek Region” aimed to restore the mosaic of wetland habitats in Eislek to improve the conservation status of the three target species, including the violet copper. Under this overarching objective, the goal was to purchase land for the implementation of various restoration activities and the design and adoption of a management plan for the Natura 2000 sites in the Eislek region.

Planned and implemented measures

The Eislek project purchased 32.56 ha of land with the intention of expanding available habitat for the three target species. Site-specific restoration measures included the improvement of cutting and grazing conditions through the modification of mowing equipment and the installation of grazing-related structures (e.g. fences, livestock crossings, cattle shelters, and drinking troughs). To restore appropriate water conditions, the project restored the hydrology of the alluvial plains along 1.8 km of waterways and removed 500m of existing drains. Overall, the project succeeded in restoring 60.75 ha of land suitable for the Violet Copper.

Supporting conservation measures included contributing to the technical preparation of the Natura 2000 management plans of key sites, in collaboration with other stakeholders. These plans and recommended actions include the optimisation of grazing and cutting management for over 135 ha of state-owned and n&ë – Fondation HfN owned wet meadows. In conjunction, the project implemented a monitoring programme for the three target species. The monitoring is now undertaken by the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST), and the data will feed into both national and international databases, such as Recorder and the European Butterfly Monitoring Scheme. Furthermore, the project consulted with farmers to implement the extension of habitat management measures through agri-environmental schemes, successfully negotiating contracts covering 70.6 ha of grassland habitat.

Stakeholder involvement

The LIFE Eislek project was coordinated by natur&ëmwelt – fondation Hëllef fir d´Natur in partnership with natur&ëmwelt a.s.b.l., the National Committee for Social Defense (Comité national de défense sociale (CNDS)) through its branch CNDS-Naturaarbechten, and the competent authority of Luxembourg’s Chambre of Agriculture. The project also collaborated with local farmers and foresters to improve awareness and adoption of management practices suitable for the restoration of the study areas. As well, Luxembourg’s Ministry of Sustainable Development and Infrastructure (MDDI) was involved in the Natura 2000 management plans, and the Administration de la gestion de l'eau (AGE; Water Administration) collaborated on specific actions and issues raised during the project’s lifetime.

To spread information about the restoration of the implemented sites, the project established a trail with information boards, organised 20 events (6 working events and 14 guided tours) and initiated the publication of 78 articles. These and other actions helped generate new information and raise environmental awareness of the general public and farmers in the area.

Key achievements and impacts

The LIFE Eislek project reports an increase in biodiversity in the Natura 2000 sites due to the restoration activities, but its impacts on the Violet Copper have not been quantified, and may take some time to become apparent. However, given the significant scale of habitat restoration achieved, as described above, an increase in the species is likely to have occurred.

The LIFE Eislek restoration activities can be expected to have benefitted other species in the area, especially considering that the Violet Copper is an umbrella species in the region. For example, waders profited from the wetland restoration as open water spaces appeared, and, for the first time in 20 years, the Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus) bred in the north of Luxembourg at a recently-mown site with a specially-converted mower. In addition, the creation of ponds and the hydrological restoration measures increased the area of open water, which benefited species such as dragonflies and amphibians. The hydrological restoration has also led to improvements in water quality through filtration processes, and increased retention of water that could otherwise contribute to flooding downstream.

Costs and financing

The total budget for the LIFE Eislek project amounted to €1,766,775, of which the EU contributed 50% (€883,387). The rest of the financial support came from national co-financing from the Ministère du Développement durable et des Infrastructures – Département de l’environnement (€665,887) and from contributions from the project beneficiaries (€202,501).

The species action plan for the Violet Copper in Luxembourg mentions the availability of financing for conservation efforts, as ensured through national regulation (i.e. the National Action Plan for the Protection of Nature). Possible funding sources for conservation initiatives include the Grand-Ducal Regulation of 20 September 2012 establishing a series of aid schemes to safeguard biological diversity in rural, wine growing and forestry areas, and the Grand-Ducal Regulation of 18 March 2008 on aid for the improvement of the natural environment. Other sources mentioned within the plan include LIFE+ funds and national co-financing by MDDI-DE, state budgets for the acquisition of land, and budgets allocated to the national biodiversity monitoring system.

Lessons learned

The key targeted conservation measures that led to the improvements

  • Clearing encroaching scrub and mowing abandoned or fallow farmland.
  • Clear-felling of spruce trees and conversion of previously deforested plantations to extensive grassland.
  • Restoration of meadows with Common Bistort and Meadowsweet through a mixture of sowing, hay transfer and replanting of rhizomes.
  • Planting hedges and solitary trees to act as wind buffers.
  • Restoration of hydrological conditions of the alluvial plains and removal of existing drains.
  • Consultations with farmers to implement the extension of conservation measures through agri-envionment schemes, and negotiating contracts for grassland habitats.
  • Raising environmental awareness of the general public and farmers in the area.

Conservation measures that have not been sufficiently effective

  • Solely protecting areas and species without subsequent proper management or habitat restoration for targeted species.
  • The previous methods for the grazing of sheep, which was identified as not being the most appropriate or best means of grazing if done for too long, at inappropriate times or over too large of an area.

Factors that supported the conservation measures

  • Development of Natura 2000 management plans for key sites, in collaboration with the government and local stakeholders.
  • The willing involvement of key stakeholders, including government authorities and local farmers.
  • Financial assistance to perform restoration activities from the EU LIFE Programme, local authorities and project beneficiaries.

Factors that constrained conservation measures

  • Access to areas of interest, as it was not always possible to purchase crucial parcels of land or convince the owners to participate in conservation measures.
  • Conflicts between conservation goals in certain areas.

Quick wins that could be applied elsewhere for the species

  • Clearing encroaching scrub and mowing abandoned or fallow farmland.
  • Clear-felling of spruce trees and conversion of previously deforested plantations to extensive grassland (as this can be aided by selling the wood to local foresters).
  • Raising environmental awareness of the general public and farmers in the area.

Examples of good practice, which could be applied to other species

  • Development of the Natura 2000 management plans for key sites, in collaboration with government and local stakeholders.
  • Consultation with key stakeholders to implement or extend measures or negotiate biodiversity contracts.
  • Raising environmental awareness of the general public and key stakeholders.

Reference information

The information presented here is based on the work done as part of the European Commission study on identifying the drivers of successful implementation of the Birds and Habitats Directives (under contract ENV.F.1/FRA/2014/0063), carried out by the Institute for European Environmental Policy, BirdLife International, Deloitte, Denkstatt, Ecologic, ICF Consulting Services and PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency. The information and views set out in this case study are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the Commission.

Their sources include:

EEA/ETC-BD (undated) Lycaena helle. European Environment Agency / European Topic Centre on Biodiversity Factsheet. https://bd.eionet.europa.eu/article17/reports2012/species/summary/?period=3&group=Arthropods&subject=Lycaena+helle&region=

ETC-BD (2018) Member State Article 17 reports for Lycaena helle as compiled by ETC-BD on EIONET. https://bd.eionet.europa.eu/article17/reports2012/species/summary/?period=3&group=Arthropods&subject=Lycaena+helle&region= accessed on 07/02/2018

Kayser, M (2015) Determining the population connectivity of the endangered lycaenid butterfly Lycaena helle (Denis & Schiffermüller, 1775) in Luxembourg http://life-eislek.eu/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Final-Version-1-11.pdf on 21/03/2018

LIFE Eislek (2018) Life Eislek: restoration of wetlands and associated endangered species. http://life-eislek.eu/english-summary/ on 21/03/2018

LMD (2013) Plan national pour la protection de la nature- Plans d’actions espèce: Plan d’action Cuivré de la Bistorte, Lycaena helle. Luxembourg’s Ministère du Développement durable et des Infrastructures Département de l’environnement http://environnement.public.lu/content/dam/environnement/documents/natur/plan_action_especes/lycaena_helle.pdf on 21/03/2018

natur&ëmwelt (2018) LIFE Eislek: Restoration of wetlands and associated endangered species. http://www.naturemwelt.lu/natur-an-emwelt_ShowNews_News.13-1-197-0.html on 21/03/2018

natur&ëmwelt (2017) LIFE Eislek: Restoration of wetlands and associated endangered species. Final report for the LIFE project http://www.naturanemwelt.lu/forcedownload.php?iddownload=9801298040424&type=_pdf_ on 21/03/2018

van Swaay, C, Wynhoff, I, Verovnik, R, Wiemers, M, López Munguira, M, Maes, D, Sasic, M, Verstrael, T, Warren, M and Settele, J (2010) Lycaena helle. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2010: e.T174383A7061808. http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/174383/1 on 07/02/2018