A BODYBUILDER from South Gloucestershire has become the first person in the UK to be prosecuted for trapping and killing rare butterflies.

Wildlife fanatic and former weight-lifter Phillip Cullen, 57, was found guilty yesterday under 'obscure' wildlife conservation laws for killing and being in possession of two Large Blues, a European protected species.

He was found guilty of six counts and prosecuted under the Conservation of Habitats and Species.

Bristol Magistrates Court heard yesterday that after being Cullen was spotted “acting suspiciously” in Daneway Banks, a nature reserve near Cirencester in Gloucestershire on 2015, police raided his home, finding a number of trays of butterflies.

Magistrate Colin Howells told the Bristol court on Thursday: "The only issue in dispute is on June 18 and or June 19 the defendant killed and captured two Large Blue butterflies.

"The prosecution witnesses said he attended the sites on both days and in the witnesses eyes was acting in a suspicious manner. He is said to have chased butterflies but no one could give conclusive evidence of him catching one.

"He explained that the labelling referred to an interpretation of the colour and today recalled 18 related to the size of wing, that's why they were uniquely labelled in this way. We find that explanation as not credible."

The court heard that Cullen is a member of an organisation called Butterfly Conservation.

A spokesman for the group said: "As a result of Mr Cullen's involvement in the trial, at Bristol magistrates court, his membership of Butterfly Conservation is currently under review."

The court had earlier heard that police found 10-30 trays at Cullen's home address and took 10 away, which it's suspected had illegal butterflies mounted on them. Officers did not find any trays of parasitic wasps.

In police interview Cullen described the large blue butterfly as the rarest butterfly in the UK and flagship butterfly, the prosecution said.

Amateur collector Phillip Cullen, who also has an interest in fossils, butterflies, wasps, claimed he stopped collecting butterflies three years ago.

Cullen claimed he had no recollection where he obtained two large blue butterflies named CH18 and DB18 - the only two labelled in his collection of assorted butterflies.

Prosecuting, Kevin Withey suggested the lettering refers to Collard Hill and Daneway Bank - where populations of blue butterflies are often seen.

Cullen said: "I can't possibly remember, I've got lots of butterflies over the years and they have all been mixed up. The majority came from France as far as I'm concerned they were bought. I don't have a specific interest in one butterfly over another.

"DB - dark blue - that's my interpretation of the colouring of the butterfly. That description applies to both of them - it's just a coincidence."

Cullen insisted 18 refers to the wing span of the butterfly when it lands and claimed the markings DB and CH refers to colourings dark blue and Cobalt Hue.

But expert Geoffrey Martin, who has seen over 11 million butterflies throughout his career, said he has never come across a butterfly being distinguished by virtue of its colour.

Cullen also claimed the two butterflies numbered 51 and 52 in his collection could have originated from a set or case he purchased from a collector in France.

He told the court: "{51} came from a store box or possibly it was one of the butterfly's I caught many years ago. I'm interested in all butterflies equally."

Cullen said he attended Daneway Bank for an open day and claims he brought a shrimping net with him to catch wasps.

"I didn't at anytime chase a large blue butterfly. I'm interested in colourations and markings - it could be indicative of climate change," he added.

Friend Andrew Carter, from Chippenham, denied he was a lookout while Cullen allegedly tried to capture butterflies in his "shrimping" net.

Collectors have been known to "fake up" large blue butterflies to look like Victorian species which can fetch £200-300 when sold, it was said.

Witnesses had previously described seeing Mr Cullen and a friend clambering over a locked gate at the Dane Way Banks nature reserve on June 18, 2015.

They say he was armed with a small green net likened to a pond dipping net - and white plastic carrier bags, which were a "red flag" to concerned onlookers.

Cullen was then observed chasing and swiping at butterflies, which one witness is "100% certain" were large blues.

Eyewitness and butterfly conservation member, Mark Greaves was showing a party of wildlife enthusiasts around Daneway Banks nature reserve – which is owned by at the site owned by Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust - on June 18, 2015.

He spotted Cullen acting suspiciously and when challenged about why he was carrying a net it's claimed Cullen said he was searching for parasitic wasps.

He said: "When I first arrived, when I approached the site in the car I saw two gentlemen, one of whom was carrying a net and that was someone who I had recognised from the previous year in 2014.

"People do not used nets on sites of special scientific interest - you really need to have permission from the landowner and Natural England if you want to use a net so that as a bit of a red flag.

"We probably spent about two to three hours showing the party around the site. I did speak to one of the gentlemen and at that stage he didn't have the net with him. I asked him what he was looking for and he replied saying he was interested in parasitic wasps."

He then saw Cullen squatting by his van parked in a layby half a mile from the site rifling through the white plastic bags observed on him earlier that afternoon.

Eyewitness Neil Hulme, who works for the butterfly conservation charity, also spotted Cullen and a friend acting suspiciously at Daneway Banks.

"On June 18, 2015 at about 1pm I saw two gentlemen climbing over a padlocked gate at the lower corner of the reserve. One was carrying a green net mounted on a green pole, I knew to be carrying a net would require a permit - this roused a level of suspicion.

"Using my binoculars I saw him chasing what I knew to be a large blue butterfly. I saw him take two swipes at it - I don't think they were successful."

The Large Blue became extinct in 1979, but it has been reintroduced as part of a long-term and highly successful conservation project - it has long been a target for collectors.

It is fully protected under UK law and alongside the High Brown Fritillary is listed as the UK's most threatened butterfly - which means they cannot be collected, sold or killed.

In Victorian times it was the most prized specimen because of its wonderful colour and its rarity, as it could not be bred in captivity. It became extinct but the determination of two scientists brought it back to life.

There are 59 species of butterflies in the UK. Of these, 25 are afforded some kind of protection and six, including the large blue, are fully protected, meaning they cannot be collected, killed or sold.