Project partners gather round square meter bock on roof garden
Launch of the project with Hamish Torrie, Glenmorangie, Leonie Alexander Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) and Anthony McCluskey, Butterfly Conservation Scotland.

A pioneering conservation project to create an aerial network of rooftop habitats for Scotland’s butterflies was launched in Edinburgh on 25 November 2016.

Glenmorangie’s headquarters along with The Scottish Parliament building at Holyrood are leading the project to provide new homes for Edinburgh’s once elusive butterfly, The Northern Brown Argus, as well as other butterfly species.

Nothern Brown Argus butterfly
Square metre for butterflies contain the food plants of the Northern Brown Argus. Image by Jim Black, Butterfly Conservation Trust

A ‘Square Metre for Butterflies’ is a partnership between the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) and Butterfly Conservation Scotland. The aim of the joint project is to plant patches of common rock rose – the favourite food plant of the butterfly caterpillars – on green roofs surrounding Arthur’s Seat and further afield to encourage the existing population in the Royal Park to expand and colonise in the newly created habitats.

The Northern Brown Argus is Edinburgh’s butterfly. For years it existed on Arthur’s Seat with Scottish butterfly watchers in the 1700’s assuming it was just a slightly different version of the Brown Argus which it closely resembles. But in 1793, closer inspection revealed that it was a completely new species.

After its discovery the Northern Brown Argus became a highly prized addition for collectors. It disappeared by 1869 due to over-zealous collecting and land use changes at Holyrood, including the building of a road through the last remaining population strongholds of the species.

In 2005, the species was rediscovered at Holyrood and the population has continued to increase year on year.

Leonie Alexander, Urban Biodiversity Project Officer at RBGE, explained: “We are creating the network of green roofs across Edinburgh to encourage the population of Northern Brown Argus to expand into new areas. Green roofs are perfect because the butterfly is usually found living at height and these roofs will provide warmth, food and shelter in the city.

Caterpillars of the Common Blue butterfly will feed on the plants in the square metre

“We are also hoping to attract at least two other species, small copper butterflies and blue butterflies, by providing plants that caterpillars will feed on. The project will be closely monitored so we will know how successful it is and what species are attracted to the green roofs.’’

Anthony McCluskey, Urban Butterfly Project Officer with Butterfly Conservation Scotland, said: “It’s remarkable that this scarce species lives so close to the city. We’re excited to be welcoming Edinburgh’s butterfly back to the city centre, and hope that it inspires people to make more space for these beautiful creatures.

“Anyone can attract butterflies to their garden and you don’t need a green roof to do it, a simple window box full of nectar-rich plants can help butterflies on their way.’’

Ian Mackenzie, Living Landscape Programmes Manager at the Scottish Wildlife Trust, said: “Green roofs are launch pads for all kinds of butterflies and wildlife to make connections across the city. Using the ‘Square Metre for Butterflies’ project to boost these connections will show how we can build nature into our future plans.

“For the health and wellbeing of our city we need projects like this that put nature at its heart.”

Hamish Torrie, corporate social responsibility director for Glenmorangie commented: “Glenmorangie has a long-standing commitment to the natural environment across all of our sites and we are delighted to support this initiative.”