Staff from Butterfly Conservation have reintroduced chequered skipper butterflies – a species that was previously extinct in England – into Rockingham Forest in Northamptonshire.
The released butterflies were initially collected from the Fagne-Famenne region in Belgium, with assistance from the Research Institute for Nature and Forest and the Department de’Etude du Milieu Naturel at Agricole.
The butterflies were a mix of males and females, which travelled via a van through the Channel Tunnel before their release into Rockingham Forest.
“Today is an important milestone for conservation in the UK,” says Dr Nigel Bourn, director of science at Butterfly Conservation.
“It is a privilege to help return this charismatic little butterfly to its former stronghold of Rockingham Forest.”
The distinctive species became extinct in England in 1976 as a result of habitat loss, though some populations survived in Scotland.
The skippers were taken from Belgium rather than Scotland as the Belgian butterflies are in a similar landscape to Rockingham Forest and share the same caterpillar foodplant, false brome.
Following reintroduction trials in the mid-1990s, Rockingham Forest has since been restored to ideal conditions with wide, flower-filled rides.
The conservationists hope that the butterflies will mate and lay eggs in the forest, and further reintroductions across the forest will take place over the next three years.
“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.”
The reintroduction is part of Roots of Rockingham, which aims to restore and manage a network of woodland sites across the forest, and is a Back from the Brink project.