Rare butterfly threatened as fire destroys huge area at Kincraig Point

A suspicious fire at Kingcraig, west of Earlsferry, on October 2, destroyed 2.5 hectares of land near to the Fife Coastal Path, seriously threatening the rare Northern Brown Argus butterfly population.
A suspicious fire at Kingcraig, west of Earlsferry, on October 2, destroyed 2.5 hectares of land near to the Fife Coastal Path, seriously threatening the rare Northern Brown Argus butterfly population.
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A large fire in Fife has threatened a rare butterfly and destroyed part of a protected natural area.

The fire occurred at Kincraig Point, west of Earlsferry, earlier this month. This beautiful stretch of the Fife coast is part of the Firth of Forth Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) because of its ideal habitat for the Northern Brown Argus. This butterfly is only found in five other sites in Scotland, all of which are also protected sites. Kingcraig Point is the only site in Fife.

The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service believe the fire, which took place on October 2, was a deliberate act. It is thought that bales of straw on nearby fields were set alight. The wind then carried embers of the fire to the coast and ignited over 2.5 hectares of the dry grassland slope by the Fife Coastal Path.

The fire occurred at the most vulnerable stage in the Northern Brown Argus’ life cycle as the caterpillars were going in to hibernation on the ground below the vegetation. Next year’s population may have been seriously affected with many of the caterpillars dying in the fire.

The Northern Brown Argus occurs in small scattered colonies, so any damage to its habitat can be catastrophic to the local population. The butterfly relies solely on a plant called common rock-rose which carpets the slopes at Kincraig in the summer months.

Gavin Johnson, Scottish Natural Heritage’s operation officer for designated sites, said: “It will be an anxious wait to see how the butterflies and the common rock-rose recover next year. We hope the fire damage will not seriously impact the future of this population of Northern Brown Argus butterflies, but there could be disastrous results for this rare butterfly.”

Fife Coast and Countryside Trust (FCCT) also expressed their concern over the incident. Deidre Munro said: “The Fife Coastal Path runs through this area and its stunning views and seasonal displays of wild flowers make it one of the most scenic sections of the whole route. Not only has this been damaged but it is deeply worrying that local populations of rare and beautiful species such as the Northern Brown Argus may also have suffered.

“In addition, activities which may simply appear to be mischievous such as rolling straw bales downhill or setting them alight may in fact be placing walkers in real danger both on the Coastal Path and the Chain Walk which runs along the cliffs below”.

Lindsay Kerr, Fife Police’s wildlife and environmental crime co-ordinator, has voiced his concerned on the incident and can confirm the police are still making enquiries into the fire. “I’m disappointed such a fragile habitat and picturesque landscape has been extensively damaged. We work in tandem with the SNH and FCCT, assisting each other in different aspects of wildlife crime and wildlife issues in general.”

This is the second fire on this site in recent years - a smaller fire was set in August of 2013.

Anyone with any information on the fire should contact Police Scotland on 101.