Following the most successful ever translocation of Chequered Skipper butterflies from Belgium to England, ZSL (Zoological Society of London)’s wildlife veterinarian, Dr Tammy Shadbolt talks about her experience as part of a team working on a four-year project to bring them back from extinction.
May 2022 was an exciting month for the Disease Risk Analysis and Health Surveillance (DRAHS) team here at ZSL. In collaboration with colleagues from Butterfly Conservation, I travelled to Belgium to the beautiful Ardennes Forest in search of Chequered Skipper butterflies to bring back for release into Rockingham Forest, England as part of a carefully organised translocation project.
The Chequered Skipper butterfly became extinct in England in 1976 due to loss of habitat. In 2018 the DRAHS team at ZSL completed a disease risk analysis (DRA) and wrote a disease risk management and post-release health surveillance (DRM PRHS) protocol to facilitate the first translocation of Chequered Skipper butterflies from Belgium, where they remain abundant, to England. Since then the woodland at Rockingham Forest has been carefully managed through the Back from the Brink, and Chequered Skippers - Taking Flight projects to ensure that ride habitat remains ideal for the return of these beautiful butterflies.
The trip this year to Belgium was a resounding success! Working closely with ecologists from the Research Institute for Nature and Forest, Belgium, the international team found a record number of butterflies. I carried out pre-transport veterinary health examinations and 50 individuals in optimal health were chosen for translocation. The butterflies were kept comfortable in specially regulated cool conditions for their journey to England. Veterinary health examinations were repeated pre-release to ensure each individual had coped well with the journey and there was no risk of introducing infectious agents to the wildlife living in England. Great attention to detail in the care of these butterflies resulted in all 50 Chequered Skippers being in fantastic health at the point of release. Within 24 hours butterflies were seen taking nectar, mating with each other, and laying eggs in their new English woodland home.
As a consequence of translocations in 2018, 2019 and 2021 there is already evidence that English-bred Chequered Skippers are emerging each year in Rockingham Forest. Through this unique and carefully managed project the Chequered Skipper butterfly appears to have been brought back from extinction and be once again established in England for generations to come. As we approach a landmark season for nature, with international conferences and congresses putting a much-needed spotlight on environmental issues, ZSL is calling for world leaders to put nature at the heart of all global decision making. You can support ZSL global science and conservation work and find out more at www.zsl.org.