Eltham Copper Butterfly

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The area around Eltham supports the largest of the few remaining populations of the threatened Eltham Copper Butterfly (ECB) in Victoria.
The Eltham Copper Butterfly was first discovered around Eltham in 1938 and was thought to have become extinct around the 1950’s. Following the rediscovery of the butterfly in the Eltham area in 1987, the Eltham Copper Butterfly was listed as threatened under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act (1988) in May 1991. 

Eltham Copper Butterfly biology and distribution

The Eltham Copper Butterfly is a small and attractive butterfly with bright copper colouring on the tops of its wings which is visible during the summer flight season.
It is an unusual species due to its close symbiotic association with a group of ants from the genus Notoncus and the shrub Sweet Bursaria (Bursaria spinosa). 

Adult butterflies lay their eggs on the roots and stems of Sweet Bursaria. Once the eggs hatch, the ants guard the caterpillars (providing protection from predators) ushering the larvae to and from the ant nest at the base of the shrub, to feed on the Sweet Bursaria leaves at night.  In return the ants feed on the sugar secretions exuded from the body of the caterpillar.

It is generally considered that the butterfly has a preference for open flight paths and receiving direct sunlight; namely vegetation with an open middle and under storey.

The Eltham Copper Butterfly is known only to occur in Victoria and has only been recorded at a few locations. These sites are in geographically separate areas and include:

• Ten sites in the Eltham-Greensborough area
• Three separate small populations in the Kiata-Salisbury area in the Wimmera.
• Three sites in the Bendigo region in rural Victoria.
• Small populations at two sites at Castlemaine in rural Victoria
In the Eltham area, Nillumbik Shire Council own and manage six bushland reserves for the conservation of the Eltham Copper Butterfly. These reserves include:
• Western Eltham Copper Butterfly Reserve
• Eastern Eltham Copper Butterfly Reserve
• Diosma Road Reserve
• Woodridge Linear Reserve (Lahelam Court)
• Pitt Street Environmental Reserve
• Hohnes Hill Environmental Reserve
Parks Victoria owns and manages the Pauline Toner Eltham Copper Butterfly Reserve in Eltham, and populations of the Eltham Copper Butterfly occur on at least two known private properties in the Eltham area.

Decline of the Eltham Copper Butterfly

The Eltham Copper Butterfly was listed as a threatened taxon in Schedule 2 of the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 in 1991.  The Eltham Copper Butterfly is now classified as Endangered under the DSE Advisory List of Threatened Invertebrate Fauna in Victoria - 2009. 
The major cause of decline of the butterfly across the State is the destruction and loss of habitat, the consequence largely of urbanisation and agricultural production.
The species has been eliminated over much of its former range and the remaining populations in the Eltham area are disparate and occur in small reserves across a highly fragmented urban landscape. 
Other factors relating to the urban environment and associated human activity which further threaten the Eltham populations include weed invasion, rubbish dumping, trampling, slashing and clearing of vegetation and wildfires.
Over the past seventeen years the Friends of the Eltham Copper Butterfly in partnership with Nillumbik Shire Council and the Eltham Copper Butterfly Working Group have been undertaking annual caterpillar and adult butterfly counts.
The numbers fluctuate each year, but the 2011 and 2012 counts indicate the largest drop in numbers yet recorded.  It is suspected that increased rainfall over the last two years, and a prescribed burn undertaken in 1998, have resulted in increased growth of both exotic and indigenous vegetation which have been at a detriment to the butterfly.
However, in 2012 a previously thought extinct population of Eltham Copper Butterfly was rediscovered at Woodridge Linear Reserve at the Lahelam Court entrance to the reserve. Monitoring of this site in 2012 identified a total of 25 larvae.

The conservation effort

The conservation effort of the Eltham Copper Butterfly populations has a long history. Following it’s rediscovery in 1987 and in the face of the then proposed urban development on Diosma Road in Eltham, the local community successfully lobbied and fundraised for the reservation of the Western and Eastern Eltham Copper Butterfly colonies and for the reservation of the Pauline Toner Reserve, now owned by Parks Victoria. 
The early work undertaken by the local community to ensure the protection of the Eltham Copper Butterfly and its habitat is a remarkable story now very much embedded in the social, cultural and natural heritage and identity of the Eltham community.
Over the past twenty-five years there have been sustained investments of time and money to maintain and conserve Eltham Copper Butterfly populations and the supporting eco-system.  This has been a cooperative effort of land managers, Friends Groups, and the Eltham Copper Butterfly Working Group.
In 2010 with support from Nillumbik Shire Council the Friends of the Eltham Copper Butterfly, the Friends of Diosma Road and the Friends of Woodridge Linear Reserve received a joint community grant from the Port Phillip & Westernport Catchment Management Authority to develop and implement a community engagement program with the primary aim of renewing local community support for the conservation of the butterfly and its habitat:
Through this funding an extensive community engagement program was developed and implemented to increase awareness and appreciation of the conservation of the Eltham Copper Butterfly within the local Eltham community. The program also included capacity building activities specifically developed to benefit the three friends of groups involved in the project. 
In addition, weed infestations and garden encroachments into the reserves were identified and addressed as a main threat to the habitat of the Eltham Copper Butterfly.

In 2012, the Friends of the Eltham Copper Butterfly in partnership with Nillumbik Shire Council, Parks Victoria, the Friends of Diosma Road, the Friends of Woodridge Linear Reserve and Eltham East Primary School (EEPS) were successful in obtaining a Communities for Nature grant from the Department of Sustainability and Environment of $459,000 to protect and enhance the habitat of the Eltham Copper Butterfly.

The objectives of this grant are to:

• Optimise the habitat requirements and conditions of the Eltham Copper Butterfly across the ten sites
• Support sustainable populations of other rare and threatened species found within the Eltham Copper Butterfly sites as well the Eltham Copper Butterfly itself.
• Increase the resilience of the Eltham Copper Butterfly sites to weed invasion and other threats.
• Protect and enhance the ecosystem services (social, economic, cultural and heritage values) provided by the Eltham Copper Butterfly sites
• Coordinate weed control across property boundaries.
• Increase community participation and involvement in the protection of the Eltham Copper Butterfly.

How can you help?

If you are interested in becoming involved in the conservation of the Eltham Copper Butterfly you can join the Friends of the Eltham Copper Butterfly  by contacting Wayne Kinrade on 9439 1482 or via email at waynekinrade@hma.com.au .