Manage heathland by cutting
Overall effectiveness category Awaiting assessment
Number of studies: 2
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Background information and definitions
Heathland, like other open habitats, requires some disturbance to maintain habitat favourable to specialist species of butterflies and moths. Management by cutting is one option for creating this disturbance, but cutting causes a sudden change in the habitat structure, potentially removing nectar resources or injuring or killing eggs, caterpillars or pupae living within the heath (Humbert et al. 2010, Morris 2000). Therefore, the timing and frequency of cutting may be important for avoiding these short-term negative impacts on butterflies and moths (Morris 2000). This action includes studies comparing different cutting regimes, as well as studies comparing cutting to other options for heathland management, such as burning.
For studies on the creation or restoration of heathland or shrubland by either multiple actions (which may include cutting) or where the specific action is not clear, see “Restore or create heathland/shrubland”. For studies on other actions for heathland and shrubland management and restoration, see “Replant native vegetation”, “Employ areas of semi-natural habitat for rough grazing (includes salt marsh, lowland heath, bog, fen)” and “Natural system modifications – Use prescribed fire to maintain or restore disturbance in grasslands or other open habitats”.
Humbert J.Y., Ghazoul J., Sauter G.J. & Walter T. (2010) Impact of different meadow mowing techniques on field invertebrates. Journal of Applied Entomology, 134, 592–599.
Morris M.G. (2000) The effects of structure and its dynamics on the ecology and conservation of arthropods in British grasslands. Biological Conservation, 95, 129–142.
Supporting evidence from individual studies
A before-and-after study in 1988–1996 on a pine barren in Wisconsin, USA (Swengel & Swengel 1997) found that the abundance of five butterfly species did not change following the initiation of unintensive cutting instead of burning management. In the first three years after cutting commenced, the abundance of frosted elfin Callophrys irus (1.3 individuals/hour), Olympia marble Euchloe olympia (18 individuals/hour), Karner blue Lycaeides melissa samuelis (120 individuals/hour), Persius duskywing Erynnis persius (1.8 individuals/hour), and dusted skipper Atrytonopsis hianna (1 individual/hour) were all similar to under the previous burning regime (frosted elfin: 0; Olympia marble: 6; Karner blue: 135; Persius duskywing: 0.7; dusted skipper: 0 individuals/hour). In April 1988 and 1991, an area of pine barren was burned. In April 1994, the area was not burned, and unintensive cutting management commenced. Between 1988–1996, butterflies were surveyed along a transect at the site multiple times/year (no further details provided).Study and other actions tested
A site comparison study in 1992–2005 in a pine barren in Wisconsin, USA (Swengel & Swengel 2007) found that an area managed by mechanical cutting supported more Karner blue butterflies Lycaeides melissa samuelis than areas managed by rotational burning. Over 13 years, in an area managed by cutting, Karner blue abundance (28–32 individuals/year) was higher than in areas managed by rotational burning (9–11 individuals/year) or rotational burning and cutting (8–10 individuals/year). An unburned refuge supported a similar abundance of Karner blue (11–14 individuals/year). Within a 12,180-ha pine barren, six areas with a similar abundance of wild lupine Lupinus perennis were compared. One area was managed by mechanical cutting, one was managed with cool-season rotational burning, three were managed by burning and cutting, and one area was left as a 14-ha unburned refuge (last burned in 1988). From May–July 1992–1995 and 1997–2005, butterflies were surveyed once/year along transects in each area.Study and other actions tested
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This Action forms part of the Action Synopsis:Butterfly and Moth Conservation
Butterfly and Moth Conservation - Published 2022
Butterfly and Moth Synopsis