Nature lovers will be able to enjoy the high-speed flight of the chequered skipper butterfly in an English woodland for the first time in more than 45 years this summer.
Such is the success of a four-year reintroduction programme to return the rare insect to the woods of Northamptonshire, where it fell extinct in 1977, that its secret site can be revealed to the public.
The exact location of the butterflies was previously a closely guarded secret to protect fragile populations, but the charity Butterfly Conservation, which leads the project, has now announced that the public will be able to see the butterfly in Forestry England’s Fineshade Wood.
Last year 65 were spotted in the woods, after adult butterflies were brought from Belgium in 2018 and 2019. The English offspring have successfully bred for several years and have increased their range by 20 hectares, with the wider woodland being carefully managed to create the sunny ridges and glades that the species requires.
Dr Dan Hoare, the director of conservation for Butterfly Conservation, said: “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 get established. 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.”
While the chequered skipper is flourishing again thanks to the Back from the Brink project, Susannah O’Riordan, the chequered skipper project manager for Butterfly Conservation, said they hoped the butterfly would expand further across its traditional stronghold of Rockingham Forest in Northamptonshire. The chequered skipper’s only other British population is in the Highlands of Scotland.
“It’s always a work in progress and we’ve still got to maintain the population size,” said O’Riordan. “They are such a difficult butterfly to monitor because they are so fast, and sneaky about where they are. We’re definitely only seeing a proportion of the population on site.”
The butterfly typically emerges at the end of May and visitors to Fineshade Wood will be supervised by two “skipper rangers” as well as Butterfly Conservation volunteers and Forestry England staff. Visitors are being urged to stick to marked footpaths and not trample long grass, which the butterfly’s caterpillars feed on.
“It can be a problem if people aren’t respectful of their habitat,” said O’Riordan. “But we’ve been doing a lot of management in nearby woodland and we hope as numbers increase that the butterfly will colonise some of the additional woodlands in the area. That’s always been our aim through the project – to create lots of habitat for the chequered skipper to colonise naturally. There’s a lot more open habitat and sunny spaces for the butterfly to expand into.”