Researcher Jamie to tell the story of butterfly reintroduction project

Date 9.05.2022

An ambitious conservation project which has reintroduced a previously extinct butterfly to Northamptonshire will be showcased by a University of Northampton researcher.

PhD researcher, Jamie Wildman, is part of a team which reintroduced the chequered skipper, a butterfly last seen in England in 1976, to the country as part of the Back from the Brink initiative.

The project, carried out by wildlife charity Butterfly Conservation, in partnership with Forestry England, saw around 40 of the species captured in Belgium in May 2018, and relocated to Rockingham Forest, Northamptonshire.

Jamie’s role in the project was to focus on understanding the habitat requirements for the chequered skipper and monitoring the success of the reintroduction.

You will be able to find out about the project, by registering for a free public online lecture delivered by Jamie, as part of Cambridge University’s Museum of Zoology’s Butterflies Through Time exhibition.

Register for the lecture, which takes place between 7pm and 8pm on Wednesday 11 May.

Four years on, and the project has been hailed a success, with further funding meaning a follow-on project will run until March 2023.

The founder population of chequered skippers, reintroduced from Belgium in 2018, bred successfully in Rockingham Forest, and the first generation of native butterflies emerged in May 2019. This new ‘English’ population was then bolstered by more adult butterflies, which were brought over from Belgium. The butterfly has continued to be seen in good numbers each year since 2018.

Jamie said: “Never a day goes by that I don’t appreciate how fortunate I am to be studying the chequered skipper. The University of Northampton and Butterfly Conservation started me on a road to so many unforgettable, life-affirming experiences by bringing me on to this project back in 2018. It still brings a smile to my face every time I describe who I am and what I do as a postgraduate researcher.

“I was a little dazed and overwhelmed at first – it’s not every day that an extinct butterfly species is reintroduced to England – but after getting to grips with the PhD, my role has only felt more special with each passing day. I look forward to summing up what I’ve learnt in my thesis, later this year.”

The Back from the Brink project, made possible thanks to The National Lottery Heritage Fund and People’s Postcode Lottery, aims to save 20 species from extinction and benefit over 200 more through 19 projects that span England.

The chequered skipper, although always scarce, became extinct in England in 1976 as a result of habitat loss due to changes in woodland management that saw a decline in coppicing and management of long, narrow tracks (rides) and an increase in conifer plantations which were unsuitable for the butterfly. In recent years, Forestry England has adopted different land management practices to help improve wildlife habitats, making it the ideal partner for this reintroduction project.

Jamie said: “I’m cautiously optimistic about the species’ chances of naturally recolonising adjacent woodland sites in the years to come due to the distances some chequered skippers have been known to fly at the release site since 2018.

“The chequered skipper will hopefully be released at different sites across Rockingham Forest in the years to come, giving it a modern-day foothold in a landscape it historically populated.”