Search for the Skipper

Scotland could be harbouring previously undiscovered colonies of one of the country's rarest butterflies, it emerged today.

The small, fast-flying Chequered Skipper which is extinct in England now only occurs in the UK within a 30-mile radius of Fort William in the Highlands.

However, recent work by Butterfly Conservation Scotland and the JNCC (Joint Nature Conservation Committee) has predicted the butterfly's distribution could be underestimated by around 20% at a 10km level and as much as 400% at a finer 1km resolution.

So Butterfly Conservation Scotland is calling for the public to help unearth new spots where the Chequered Skipper may be living unnoticed.

The butterfly's restricted distribution can be explained by the region's warm, damp summers and mild winters which allow the deciduous Purple Moor-grass, on which the caterpillar feeds, to stay green late into the autumn.

This helps the caterpillars to complete their development before hibernating for the winter. Elsewhere in the UK, Purple Moor-grass turns brown too early in the year for this to happen.

The Chequered Skipper is usually on the wing from mid May until the end of June. It can be seen on warm and sunny days, even during brief spells of sunshine, feeding on nectar particularly bugle, marsh thistle and orchids.

The butterfly was formerly found in England, where it used to be relatively common in East Midland woodlands. But it began to decline in the 1960s before finally being declared extinct in 1976.

Dr Tom Prescott, Senior Conservation Officer for Butterfly Conservation Scotland, said: "The Chequered Skipper is a rare and enigmatic butterfly which we believe is probably more widespread than current records suggest.

"We have identified 100 1km-squares where we think the butterfly should occur but we do not have any sightings.

"We would like the public to get involved and see if this is true by looking for the butterfly in these areas"

The public can watch butterfly emergence at first hand this May with Butterfly Conservation.

The charity is running Save Our Butterflies Week - a series of events highlighting the conservation work that is helping to secure the future of UK butterflies.