Duke of Burgundy (female/upperwing) - Mark Searle

A naturalist who almost single-handedly saved a rare butterfly from extinction in Sussex, has been awarded a British Empire Medal (BEM) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List for his long-standing services to wildlife conservation.

Neil Hulme, 56, from Worthing, West Sussex, who works as a project officer for wildlife charity Butterfly Conservation (BC), has devoted much of his life to protecting butterflies and moths.

He is credited with saving the rare Duke of Burgundy butterfly from extinction in Sussex and has made a major contribution to protecting many other rare and vulnerable species.

The Duke of Burgundy was on the verge of local extinction in Sussex in 2003 before Neil intervened. He worked with landowners and the South Downs National Park Authority to improve habitat on every known site and successfully managed to turn the Duke’s fortunes around.

Some colonies of the butterfly have expanded in Sussex to become amongst the largest in the UK and the Duke is now showing signs of expanding its range in the area.

A member of BC since 1997, Neil has spent 20 years involved in volunteering to protect butterflies and moths, representing the BC Sussex Branch in many roles, most recently as Conservation Adviser.

From chasing down rare migrant Swallowtail butterflies to helping the public catch a glimpse of the elusive Purple Emperor, Neil’s guided walks and butterfly workshops are much in demand, combining his ecological knowledge, passion for conservation and sparkling good humour.

Neil said: “It is a great honour to be recognised in this manner and I'm absolutely delighted, but the conservation of butterflies is always a team effort, so it is equally a recognition of my colleagues, and particularly the volunteers of BC Sussex Branch. This is also for my parents; my passion for butterflies and dedication to helping them is entirely their fault!"

The butterfly enthusiast changed career to work for Butterfly Conservation (BC) after spending 30 years in the oil industry. He now leads a Heritage Lottery Funded project, Fritillaries For The Future, to conserve highly threatened fritillary butterflies across Sussex.

Neil is also an accomplished wildlife photographer and his images havehelped to promote butterflies and their conservation. His years of dedicated work have culminated in the recent publication with his co-author Michael Blencowe of the acclaimed The Butterflies of Sussex.

Dr Dan Hoare, BC’s Head of Regions, said: “Anyone who has had the pleasure of Neil’s company in pursuit of butterflies, or worked with him to find ways of tackling the many challenges facing our wildlife in the modern world, will be delighted to see his work recognised with this award.

“Neil is a force of nature, and his infectious enthusiasm, deep knowledge acquired through years of studying butterflies in the wild, and passionate commitment to the hard work of nature conservation mark him out as a rarity himself. The future is immeasurably brighter for the butterflies of Sussex as a result of Neil’s efforts, and this award is richly deserved.”

BC Chief Executive Julie Williams said: “I am absolutely delighted that Neil is being recognised for his dedication and amazing effort in conserving butterflies and moths over the last 20 years. His work on the Duke of Burgundy means this wonderful butterfly now has a future in Sussex.

“It’s an honour to work with such an incredible and enthusiastic ambassador of Lepidoptera. We are thrilled his work is being recognised by this special award”.