AROUND 50 new elm trees are due to be planted in Basing Wood in a bid to entice a rare butterfly.

In an attempt to attract rare White-letter Hairstreak butterflies, the Forestry Commission and wildlife charity Butterfly Conservation will be planting the trees on Valentine’s Day (today).

The White-letter Hairstreak, once common, is now at critically low levels due largely to the decline in elm trees which are the sole food plant of the butterfly’s caterpillar.

Millions of Elm trees have been lost across the UK over the last 40 years due to Dutch elm disease.

Several sightings of the illusive flying visitor were spotted close to Basing Wood last year and it is hoped that by placing disease-resistant elm trees along the Butterfly Trail, the White-letter Hairstreak may be attracted to create a home there.

This work is part of a crucial habitat enhancement project carried out over the past two years which has been funded by the Forestry Commission’s partner Forest Holidays, creating essential space, feeding and egg laying opportunities for butterfly species.

The Butterfly Trail follows a 1.8km route through the ancient woodland and is popular with many different types of butterflies, including the Orange-tip, a dazzling spring butterfly, or the Common Blue, seen in late summer.

The Forestry Commission manages the area to ensure it has a wide range of the trees and plants which butterflies need to survive, and that there are sufficient open spaces for these to grow and thrive.

Forester for the Forestry Commission in the area, Michael Ullman, said: “Elm trees were once a common feature of our woodlands. It is great to be able to play our part in their return and to create vitally important habitats for these rare butterflies.”

Last year, Butterfly Conservation volunteers recorded at least 23 different butterfly species in or near Basing Wood and more surveys are due to take place this year to assess how population numbers are changing.

Steve Wheatley from Butterfly Conservation said: “We’ve been really pleased to work with the Forestry Commission at Basing Wood over the last couple of years to guide habitat enhancements and establish the Butterfly Trail.

“The planting of elms is another really positive step forwards. In a few years, when the new trees begin to flower, our volunteer recorders will start to search them for the White-letter Hairstreak.

“With confirmed sightings nearby in the landscape, there’s a really good chance these trees will be colonised and become a new home for this rare butterfly.”

Forest Holidays has 10 cabin locations across the UK, all supporting the work of the Forestry Commission and the business has further committed £25,000 per year to a Conservation Fund supporting specific ecological initiatives.

Alison Seymour, Forest Holidays Forest Ranger at Blackwood Forest, added: “It’s been really exciting to see this project at Basing Wood flourish over the past two years.

“Our partnership with the Forestry Commission provides a fantastic opportunity to support projects like this across the UK, bringing lasting benefits for the wildlife and flora on our doorsteps. We were thrilled to take part in the Big Butterfly Count at Basing Wood last year, when our team spotted species such as Small Blue, Meadow Brown, Silver Washed Fritillary and White Admiral, as well as the rare Grizzled Skipper.”