Brilliant Butterflies

A chalk hill blue butterfly resting on a plant

Chalk grasslands are home to many important species of invertebrates, such as the chalk hill blue butterfly © gailhampshire/Wikimedia Commons CC BY 2.0

Project summary

Dates: 2019 - 2021

Focus: Working with local communities to monitor invertebrate communities in chalk grassland sites using traditional visual surveys and new DNA methods

Funding: funded by a Dream Fund Award, thanks to players of People’s Postcode Lottery

Partners: London Wildlife Trust and Butterfly Conservation


Britain has lost over 80% of its native chalk grassland habitat since 1945. This has led to a staggering reduction in the populations of many specialist plant species, including orchids and other wildflowers that many rare invertebrates depend on.

Led by London Wildlife Trust, the Brilliant Butterflies project aims to address the decline in invertebrates across the southern fringes of the London Boroughs of Croydon and Bromley. The project is working with local communities to restore existing areas of chalk grassland and create a network of new habitats called ‘butterfly banks’ that butterflies and other pollinating insects can thrive in.

A central part of the project will be the testing and development of new scientific methods that will enable us to better understand and track how chalk grassland invertebrate communities are faring.

Working with local communities

The Brilliant Butterflies team manages existing chalk grassland habitat with volunteers on London Wildlife Trust nature reserves in south London and runs a ‘Social Butterflies’ events programme to engage local audiences with nature on their doorstep.

Working with communities to create new habitat and ecosystems along road verges, parks, schools and housing estates will help restore the nationally rare chalk grassland habitat in south London. This will create a living landscape and encourage an array of wildlife and invertebrates for local people to enjoy.

Two team members putting up a trap to catch insects, as part of a survey

Museum and London Wildlife Trust staff survey one of the chalk grassland habitats

The Museum's role

One of the biggest challenges in nature conservation is to understand which species of plants and animals live on a site. This can be a particular problem for insects and other invertebrates, many of which can be difficult to visually identify using traditional approaches.

The Museum’s main role in the project is to develop and test ground-breaking DNA and environmental DNA (eDNA) surveys to gain a picture of the breadth of invertebrate life that is present on the project sites and track how communities are changing in response to habitat creation and restoration.

We are also developing a new training program in invertebrate identification, which will train local volunteers to identify and monitor key groups of chalk grassland invertebrates. The data gathered will be used to inform conservation practice as well as helping to build our national collections.

The DNA studies form part of a wider NHM research theme investigating how new genomic science methods can support nature conservation in the UK.

What is eDNA?

Find out what environmental DNA (eDNA) is and how it can be used to support nature conservation.

How to take part

Brilliant Butterflies volunteers have the exciting opportunity to learn from a diverse team of ecologists and scientists working to restore this habitat. The NHM will train volunteers local to Croydon and Bromley to identify key groups of chalk grassland invertebrates on our ‘Grassland Heroes’ citizen science training course.

Volunteers can then put their ID skills to test on ‘Big Bug Hunts’, participate in biological recording and help Museum scientists with DNA surveys in the field.

If you live in Croydon or Bromley and would like to get involved please visit the Brilliant Butterflies webpage for more information on events, bank creation and further volunteer opportunities.

To find out more and register your interest as a volunteer, visit the London Wildlife Trust's website.

A Museum staff scientist working with eDNA sample vials

Environmental DNA (eDNA) surveys will help us understand what species of invertebrates are present on the project sites

Project team

Museum staff:
External collaborators:
  • Mathew Frith, London Wildlife Trust
  • Dr Phil Sterling
  • Catherine Cullen, London Wildlife Trust


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