Posted 24th May 2018 by Peter Byrne
A once extinct butterfly is set to fly in what was once its former English stronghold for the first time in over 40 years
Butterfly Conservation has released Chequered Skipper butterflies at a secret location in Rockingham Forest, Northamptonshire, as part of the project.
It's anticipated that these butterflies will mate, subsequently laying the foundations for a new English population of the Chequered Skipper in the forest.
The release is part of the Back from the Brink initiative, which is aiming to save 20 species from extinction, and will also benefit over 200 more through 19 projects being conducted across England.
Always a scarce sight, by 1976, the Chequered Skipper became extinct in England due to habitat loss. This was brought about by changes in the management of woodland, which saw a decline in coppicing and the management of long, narrow tracks, further enhanced by the increase in conifer plantations which are unsuitable for the butterfly.
The butterfly is historically found in bands of woodlands and limestone grassland from Oxfordshire to Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire.
While it is still found in parts of Scotland, conservationists wanted to bring it back to England, if suitable habitat conditions could be recreated.
Trials occurred in the mid-1990s, with the data gathering providing crucial information prior to today's major reintroduction.
The Back from the Brink project has allowed parts of the butterfly's former stronghold in Rockingham Forest to be restored to its ideal conditions, which include wide, flower-filled rides.
Earlier in the week, ecologists from the Butterfly Conservation travelled to Belgium, where they collected adults from the Fagne-Famenne region in the south of the country, an area where they are widespread.
The mix of male and female butterflies were then taken across the Channel, via Eurostar, yesterday, and were transferred to Rockingham where they were placed in release cages overnight prior to today's release.
It's the first of a number of reintroductions that are to take place at sites across Rockingham Forest over the next three years, with plans in place to build a large, resilient and sustainable population of Chequered Skipper across the entire landscape.
Adults were chosen from Belgium as opposed to Scotland as the Belgium Chequered Skippers were found in a similar landscape to Rockingham Forest and share the same caterpillar foodplant, False Brome.
The reintroduction is part of the Roots of Rockingham project, which works across a network of sites with the aim of restoring the forest to its former glory, and helping several species, including the Willow Tit, Lesser Spotter Woodpecker and Barbastelle Bat.
Dr Nigel Bourn, Butterfly Conservation Director of Science, said: "Today is an important milestone for conservation in the UK. It is a privilege to help return this charismatic little butterfly to its former stronghold of Rockingham Forest."
"It has taken many years and a lot of hard work from many people to get to this point and I am very proud to be part of the team collecting these beautiful butterflies and returning them to England at last."
Butterfly Conservation Chief Executive Julie Williams said: "Butterfly Conservation has been planning this reintroduction project for many years and I am delighted that by working collaboratively with our Back from the Brink partners, we have realised our ambition. We are so grateful to the players of the National Lottery and the Heritage Lottery Fund for their funding and support."
Image courtesy of Bob Eade / Butterfly Conservation