For the first time since 1976, wildlife enthusiasts will be able to see the rare and beautiful Chequered Skipper butterfly in the wild in England this summer.
Thanks to the expertise of Butterfly Conservation, changes in land management techniques from Forestry England, and hard-working volunteers from Butterfly Conservation, the butterfly which was previously extinct in England has been successfully breeding in a Northamptonshire forest. The population is now stable enough for members of the public wanting to glimpse the exciting butterfly to be able to visit.
The exact location of the butterflies has previously been a closely guarded secret, but Butterfly Conservation are now pleased to be able to reveal that Forestry England's Fineshade Wood in Northamptonshire is the site of the reintroduced species.
Director of Conservation for Butterfly Conservation, Dr Dan Hoare, explains: "We have had to keep the exact location of these butterflies secret for the first few years following their introduction to allow them time to become more sustained and resilient. While our work to secure the future of this population of Chequered Skipper continues, we are delighted to be able to reveal their location so that butterfly enthusiasts can come and enjoy spotting them in the wild in England for the first time in more than 40 years."
The reintroduction of the Chequered Skipper to England was part of the ambitious conservation project Back from the Brink. Butterflies were collected in Belgium in 2018 and 2019 and released at the Northamptonshire site by experts from Butterfly Conservation, working in partnership with Forestry England who had carried out preparations to the site in order to help provide favourable habitats.
Since then, more butterflies have been released into Fineshade Wood and have successfully bred. It is hoped the continuation of this project will build a large, resilient and sustainable population of Chequered Skipper across the landscape of Rockingham Forest.
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Susannah O'Riordan, Chequered Skipper Project Manager for Butterfly Conservation, says: "Rockingham Forest was a previous stronghold for the Chequered Skipper, and many years ago we would have seen hundreds of these butterflies flying in the rides here. They need open, sunny habitat within or on the edges of woodland and over time the habitat here became very enclosed and dark. The loss of this habitat caused the extinction of the Chequered Skipper in England. The funding for the Back from the Brink project has enabled us to bring them back. Forestry England have done a lot of work to improve the woodland habitat by widening the rides (trackways) through the forest and thinning the woodlands."
Dan Hoare adds: "Reintroducing a species is not a quick fix and the challenge we now face is to make sure that woodland management across the landscape can continue to provide the habitats the Chequered Skipper needs to thrive into the future. We have just come to the end of a four-year project that was part of the Back from the Brink collaboration and funded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund. We will now continue our vital work of habitat management, surveying, and further reintroduction thanks to funding from the Government's Green Recovery Challenge Fund as well as Butterfly Conservation supporters. Together with Forestry England we can continues our work to ensure this butterfly exists in England for future generations to enjoy."
When to see the Chequered Skipper?
The best time to see the Chequered Skipper butterfly is in June, when the adult butterflies can be seen flying. These small, fast-flying butterflies can be difficult to spot but are most likely to be seen perching in sheltered positions either next to wood edges or amongst light scrub or bracken. The males dart out to investigate passing objects, defending their territory against other males and other butterfly species, or in the hope of locating a potential mate. The females tend to be less conspicuous and fly low among grasses when egg-laying.
Susannah adds: "We are hoping to be able to get Chequered Skipper populations established in additional sites across the woodlands in Rockingham, which will help ensure the long-term sustainability of this species in England."
It's expected that many wildlife enthusiasts will plan a trip to Forestry England's Fineshade Wood this summer in the hope of catching their first glimpse of a Chequered Skipper in England for 45 years. Those who plan to visit are asked to help protect the butterfly's habitat by not straying from the marked paths and keeping dogs on leads.
For more information about the Chequered Skipper, visit https://butterfly-conservation.org/butterflies/chequered-skipper
For more information on the location of the site, visit: https://www.forestryengland.uk/fineshade-wood
Further information about the project to bring the Chequered Skipper back to England can be found here: https://butterfly-conservation.org/our-work/conservation-projects/england/chequered-skippers-taking-flight-in-rockingham-forest