Saving England's most threatened species from extinction

Archive:

Posts

Archive

Brome, Interrupted!

Trying to conserve a species of grass doesn’t seem like a job at the most glamorous end of conservation. Interrupted brome (Bromus interruptus - not the most inventive of names) is an unassuming plant – not especially tall, it is a pleasant, mid-green colour and somewhat hairy. Its flowers are the same: green and a bit hairy. No showy flowers, no majestic stems – just a grass and a bit like quite a few other grasses.

Until you realise that it’s not just a rare wild plant, but that it very nearly disappeared as a species. And not just from this country, but from the whole world. Something unique was nearly lost forever but for the efforts of a handful of plant conservationists who managed to haul the plant back from the brink at the point where it was about to tumble into the abyss. Suddenly, joining the rescue team for this unassuming grass starts to feel very exciting and glamorous indeed.

Interrupted brome is endemic to England – that is, it is native here, but nowhere else in the world, and actually, apart from a couple of 1930s records of introduced plants in the Netherlands, has never been found outside England. It wasn’t even noticed by botanists until the 1840s, and not described as a separate species until the 1890s. Over the following decades, it was found in more than 100 places across southern England, often associated with fields of sainfoin, which was widely grown as fodder for livestock.

Then it declined rapidly, so that by the 1970s, just one site remained, and, in 1972, it disappeared from that last remaining site. Where did it come from and why did it disappear? Well, it seems that it may have evolved relatively recently (the closely related soft brome may be its most likely antecedent), and then found a perfect home in the agricultural practices of the 19th Century. It clearly benefited from the methods used to cultivate sainfoin, and its seeds may well have been accidentally gathered alongside seeds of sainfoin and then sown as the new crops were sown. It disappeared because sainfoin fell out of fashion as a fodder crop, and because agricultural practices improved – seed was better cleaned and weeds less tolerated amongst crops.

What saved this plant was one person, a university lecturer, who had collected some seed from the last remaining population, and had been growing plants for his own studies – this last remaining, ‘captive’ population has been the basis of all subsequent conservation attempts. And for the past few years, Plantlife’s Ranscombe Farm Reserve has been one of the very few sites where work is progressing to try and re-establish self-sustaining, wild populations of interrupted brome.


(c) R.I. Moyse, Plantlife

This is trickier than it might at first seem. Interrupted brome is an annual, and a plant of sown crops. It can germinate in autumn and spring, and plants produce plenty of seed (if they are not grazed off by rabbits!) but unlike many annuals of arable farmland, its seeds don’t seem to persist for very long in the soil. And it seems unwilling to move very much from where it started – in four years at Ranscombe, the original sown populations have spread just a few yards from where they started. Nonetheless, we managed to get small, localised populations to persist and, in one case, even increase over a four-year period simply by gently cultivating the soil each autumn. It’s a start, and perhaps the secret to getting the plant to start moving around the fields at Ranscombe is simply to have a much bigger population to start with – more plants producing more seeds means much better odds that a few seeds will move greater distances. To which end, I’ve already gathered a proportion of this year’s crop of seeds, and my next job is to carefully pick apart each seed-head and separate out a few thousand seeds for sowing this autumn. Now what was it I was saying about glamour?

 

Richard Moyse

Ranscombe Project Manager

 

Would you like to help these incredible species? There are numerous ways in which you can:

  • Why not volunteer for Back from the Brink? Check out our events page for opportunities near you.
  • Help us to spread the word of this species, and the others we will be helping over the next 3 years, by sharing our message across our Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube pages. Follow us: @naturebftb.
  • Finally - help support the work we do across England by donating. Our impact will be greater with your help.

 

The Perfect Pond!

What a difference a year makes – this time last year we were in the middle of a heatwave clocking temperatures close to 30, and now, well the forecast says it’s at least 16 degrees outside but the rain is definitely making it feel cooler. The rain isn’t all bad however, in fact on the Sefton coast when saying the word rain it is customary for it to be preceded with “much needed”!

This is all because of the Natterjack toad. A fussy little species that likes its ponds just right – not too deep and not too shallow. But this is a difficult balance to find, especially when summers can vary as much as this from one year to the next. One of the challenges we face when creating new pools for Natterjack toads is to make them deep enough so they last long enough so that they don’t dry out before the toadlets emerge but also so that they aren’t too deep which would allow predators and competitors to take hold and have a negative impact on any Natterjack breeding.

That’s why, when we created a perfect pool in time for this summer, I thought it was worth writing about!

Back in February this year, Fiona (our project manager) and I had been getting ready to head out on survey when Frank (a regular volunteer for the project) turned up to ask whether he could do a bit of digging instead. There was a particular pool in the dunes that he thought, with a bit of attention, could be turned into the perfect pool.

The pool was once very good for Natterjacks but had recently become very overgrown with willows and Sea Buckthorn so Frank set about digging the scrub out and creating a small pool for the toads. At the end of what was an incredibly rainy day, Frank had done an excellent job and the pool was in much better condition.

Having seen what Frank had accomplished – I thought it would be a good idea to expand on his work and increase the size of the pool and tackle a little more of the surrounding scrub. After another day of digging with a small team of volunteers this time, the pool was much larger in size and probably larger than its original size, completely clear of vegetation and importantly just the right depth!


Before


After

In fact, we did such a great job that we saw hundreds of tiny Natterjack toadlets emerging from the pool. There is always a great sense of satisfaction when a lot of hard work from a good group of volunteers pays off!

   
Natterjack Toadlets

 

Andrew Hampson

Project Officer - Gems in the Dune

 

Would you like to help these incredible species? There are numerous ways in which you can:

  • Why not volunteer for Back from the Brink? Check out our events page for opportunities near you.
  • Help us to spread the word of this species, and the others we will be helping over the next 3 years, by sharing our message across our Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube pages. Follow us: @naturebftb.
  • Finally - help support the work we do across England by donating. Our impact will be greater with your help.

 

The Chequered Skipper Flies Again!

Seeing Chequered Skippers flying once again in their former English strongholds has been a dream of mine since I was a child. I grew up in Northamptonshire in a house that backed on to fields and while exploring the seemingly endless natural world beyond the back gate I developed a fascination for butterflies. I kept this interest in butterflies into my adult life and I now find myself as the Northamptonshire County Butterfly Recorder. It was during my early studies of butterflies that I first came across the Chequered Skipper, but only in a book as the species became extinct in England two years before I was born. I was saddened to read the accounts of its disappearance from its former strongholds here and I was amazed to learn how rapidly a species can decline and disappear in a short space of time.

So I was very excited when I heard about  an amazing new project called Back from the Brink that was being set up to bring conservation partners together to help our wildlife, and that one of these partners, Butterfly Conservation, was  leading work in the Rockingham Forest landscape which included the ambition to reintroduce the Chequered Skipper back into England! I put my name down as a volunteer as soon as I could, keen to play a part in this project. In 2018 I helped with monitoring after the initial release, and it was great to see the Belgian Chequered Skippers on the wing, getting used to their new home. At the time, myself and a few other volunteers all agreed how exciting it would be should some Chequered Skippers survive and emerge the following year.  Now that would be amazing!

Throughout the rest of the year I’d talk to other volunteers and I admit a bit of worry crept in.  Although the long hot summer of 2018 led to one of the best butterfly seasons for many species we’ve ever had in Northamptonshire, would the Chequered Skipper larvae be able to survive the drying up of so many foodplants?  In Spring 2019 the news eventually broke that Chequered Skippers had begun to emerge in Europe and then in Scotland. By now the monitoring in Rockingham Forest had already begun and although everyone was drawing a blank, I was itching to get in there to take a look.  But work and local Butterfly Conservation branch commitments meant I couldn’t start my first monitoring session until mid-May.

On the morning of this session, I woke to find the sun shining so headed to the site a little earlier than planned as I really wanted to make the most of my day. The monitoring method is quite simple – walking as many rides as possible to record the location, sex and behaviour of any Chequered Skippers.  As none had been seen yet I had already worked out a route that paid particular attention to areas where I’d seen released Belgian ones the year before.


Chequered Skipper Belgian - 1st release day (c) David James

It’s a puzzle even to me as to why I didn’t go up the first ride on my planned route but I’m very pleased I didn’t!  For some reason it just didn’t seem right. I’m not sure whether it was the position of the sun or wind direction that put me off, but whatever it was I decided to walk a bit further and head down a different ride instead. After filling in my recording form I set off on my walk, paying particular attention to the Bugle flowers.  Quite a few bees caught my eye as they darted around, then all of a sudden a butterfly took off from the grass and settled, showing itself to be a Small Heath.  This was a good sign as it meant that butterflies were already on the wing that morning. I continued my walk and after only a few paces I noticed another small patch of Bugle on my left and froze, my jaw slowly dropping open as goosepimples appeared on both arms. Right in front of me busily nectaring on a Bugle flower was a Chequered Skipper - the first one to be seen in England for over 40 years!


Chequered Skipper English - 1st to emerge (c) David James

I slowly put down my rucksack and took out my camera to take a few photos before ringing Project Officer Susannah O’Riordan to give her this incredibly exciting news. By now the Skipper had moved from the Bugle to bask in the grass – allowing for a few more photo opportunities before I continued my survey.  Another volunteer arrived later that morning and between us we managed to find two more Chequered Skippers in different locations.  Although it was early days in the emergence of these English Chequered Skippers, the signs were really encouraging!


Chequered Skipper English - 3rd to emerge (c) David James

I had to wait a week before being able to monitor again but luckily this coincided with the release of the second batch of Belgian Chequered Skippers.  After helping set up the release pens and seeing the butterflies being put inside them to get used to their new home,  I started my monitoring survey – just as the sun broke through the clouds. Unfortunately the sun was short lived as the heavens opened 10 minutes later and the rain started to pour. I half heartedly walked a few rides on my monitoring route, when not sheltering under the trees, before looping back to the release site. As I headed back up the ride towards the rest of the group, who were gathered around one of the pens ready to release the butterflies, the rain stopped and it started to warm up.


Chequered Skipper Belgian - 2nd release day (c) David James

Approaching the group I suddenly noticed a butterfly out of the corner of my eye and to my amazement it was a Chequered Skipper! I called everyone over and it was fantastic to see everyone’s excitement as they gathered round to admire this special butterfly. A few years ago I visited a very good friend of mine in Fort William who took me to see Chequered Skippers around the Highlands and it amazed me then how quickly they can come out after a rain shower. These new English ones seem to show the same characteristics as, after I watched the Belgian Chequered Skippers be released, I continued my survey and found a few more fresh English Chequered Skippers basking on the tops of wet grass stems in between rain showers. When it comes to wet weather they certainly seem to be a very plucky butterflies!


Chequered Skipper English Female (c) David James


Chequered Skipper English Male (c) David James

The Back from the Brink project and Butterfly Conservation deserve congratulations for their amazing accomplishment this year. I feel extremely privileged to have been given the chance to help this project in my own small way and I would urge anyone who is reading this to offer some free time to volunteer for other Back from the Brink projects you may have in your area.

 

David James 

Guest Blogger

 

Would you like to help these incredible species? There are numerous ways in which you can:

  • Why not volunteer for Back from the Brink? Check out our events page for opportunities near you.
  • Help us to spread the word of this species, and the others we will be helping over the next 3 years, by sharing our message across our Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube pages. Follow us: @naturebftb.
  • Finally - help support the work we do across England by donating. Our impact will be greater with your help.

 

Field Cricket Poem

 

Lonely,

birch tree

Dead

Bleached bones

 

 

Wood world

Shadows shift

Silver-winged

Midnight-armoured

Front-horned

 

God speaks in beetle - rhinoceros

Charismatic microfauna

 

Would you like to help these incredible species? There are numerous ways in which you can:

  • Why not volunteer for Back from the Brink? Check out our events page for opportunities near you.
  • Help us to spread the word of this species, and the others we will be helping over the next 3 years, by sharing our message across our Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube pages. Follow us: @naturebftb.
  • Finally - help support the work we do across England by donating. Our impact will be greater with your help.

 

Out for the Count –

A Flashback to the Field Cricket Project this June!

 

Since joining the team at RSPB’s Farnham Heath reserve, I have been consistently amazed at the variety of heathland specialists that are on the site. I had heard of many of them prior to joining the team; Sand Lizards, Dartford Warblers and Nightjar were all familiar to me, however the story of the Field Crickets is one I was not familiar with.

From the very first summer I went out on the Farnham release site, I was amazed at the chorus of churrs that came from the grassy banks in an almost hypnotic whirr. Not long after, I had the chance to meet the Back from the Brink team and learn about the fantastic work being done for the species.

In May 2019 I went out on my first Field Cricket count with Mike Coates, the Farnham Heath Warden and Field Cricket licence holder. We were cautiously optimistic about numbers, having heard a few churring on our way down to the site. We were gobsmacked at just how many churring males were down on the Tankersford area of the reserve; some areas had almost 10 times the number of males they had in 2018! What started as a quick 45-minute count quickly turned into a frantic 3-hour rush to count as many as we could before losing precious sunlight. Reconvening at about half past seven we checked the maths and were astounded to find out we had over 300 crickets on our heath. Mike and I were at a loss for words! We added the numbers again and again to make sure we were right and by the end of the survey we had confirmed that Farnham may have the largest single population of Field Crickets of all the sites where it has been reintroduced. It was an incredibly rewarding experience especially since the many wonderful volunteers and I had worked tirelessly to clear these areas and create suitable habitat for them.

Since then I have been involved with the Back from the Brink Dream of the Field Cricket event, celebrating the work done to save these fantastic invertebrates and inspire others through music and poetry. Additionally, I had the chance to spend the day with Graeme Lyons and Jane Sears learning about the history of these species, how we can improve our sites for them and how the work by Back from the Brink and the Natural England Species Recovery Programme has saved them from almost certain extinction. Really, I cannot thank Graeme and Jane enough for letting me get involved in the project, I look forward to future work with the Back from the Brink Field Cricket project and hope more success stories are soon to follow.

 

Tom Cover

Assistant Warden

RSPB’s Farnham Heath Reserve

 

 

Would you like to help these incredible species? There are numerous ways in which you can:

  • Why not volunteer for Back from the Brink? Check out our events page for opportunities near you.
  • Help us to spread the word of this species, and the others we will be helping over the next 3 years, by sharing our message across our Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube pages. Follow us: @naturebftb.
  • Finally - help support the work we do across England by donating. Our impact will be greater with your help.

 

Mosey in the Margins at South Down Farm

On the 11th July, I headed down to South Down Farm in Marlborough, Devon for a joint event with the National Trust. We were hosting a guided walk around the beautiful coastal farm with locals to see what we could find, as well as learn more about the different management practices that have been put in place.

I met with Emma and Ken from the National Trust and 12 other members of the public at about 6 pm and after some introductions and information about Colour in the Margins, we headed off for our first stop – an arable margin. It was full of colour and there were Common Poppies, Field Pansy, Scarlet Pimpernel and Mayweeds to be found, a great start!

We headed along the path to a few more stops, where we encouraged people to smell, listen and take time to appreciate where we were. We also stopped off where we could find some Small-flowered Catchfly; one of the primary species for the project – it was great to introduce the public to something that really isn’t very common.

The evening carried on through some grass meadows where sheep weren’t allowed – it meant that the grass wasn’t munched on as much, with just cattle present. We also saw Cirl Bunting flying around. Historically there were only 3 pairs but across the three farms, South Down, East Bore and Bolt Head there are now believed to be 40 pairs.

We then hugged the coastline, dropping down into the valley to see Starehole Cove, which I imagine is incredible on a sunny day – it was still impressive despite the overcast evening! On the way down to the coastline, we learnt about the highland cattle and how cutting sections into the gorse hedges encouraged the cattle to disturb these areas to allow light in, which in turn benefits other species too. I also learnt that Highland Cattle absolutely love Ivy and will do anything to get to it!

We headed up to a view point after being along the coast and the views were absolutely stunning. As we headed back to the Rangers office, we took the time to look at Mosey in the Margins (an education arable plant resource) to see what else we could spot and I got lots of lovely comments about how helpful it was to see pictures, so people could match things up – Field Madder, Fumitories and Field Speedwell were now ticked off! We also spied 3 deer in the field on the way back – but they were too far to tell which species but it was lovely to see them enjoying the natural watering hole on a summers evening.

All in all, it was a great evening and it meant that we now have a few more volunteers who are keen to get involved with surveying some areas near them, as well as raising awareness of arable plant species. Some people even said they had walked on South Down Farm for years but had never stopped to see what plants they could find, and that they would spend a little more time, next time they visited – a success in my mind!

If you want to know more about Colour in the Margins and how you can volunteer or what events are happening near you, please email me on zoe.morrall@plantlife.org.uk. You can also request your own copy of Mosey in the Margins, or download a copy here: Mosey-in-the-Margins_Web-version.pdf

 

Zoe Morrall

Project Officer - Colour in the Margins

 

Would you like to help these incredible species? There are numerous ways in which you can:

  • Why not volunteer for Back from the Brink? Check out our events page for opportunities near you.
  • Help us to spread the word of this species, and the others we will be helping over the next 3 years, by sharing our message across our Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube pages. Follow us: @naturebftb.
  • Finally - help support the work we do across England by donating. Our impact will be greater with your help.

The Yellow Centaury Plant

Yellow Centaury, one of the species that we are bringing back from the brink in Dorset’s Heathland Heart, is a miniscule member of the Gentian family that rarely grows taller than about 10cm, and can be less than 1cm. It’s sunshine-yellow flowers only open in the middle of the day in bright sun, making it even hard to locate. It favours rutted, damp trackways running through heathland, the edges of seasonal pools, and well-grazed damp grassland. Once found more widely across heathy areas, it is now largely restricted to the New Forest, the Dorset Heaths, Cornwall and the St David’s Commons in Pembrokeshire. Its decline is due to the loss of heathland habitat and changes in how the remaining heathlands are used, not particularly surprising considering its strict requirements. This plant needs open or sparsely vegetated ground that is wet in winter, and it thrives where the ground is disturbed – a combination that limits other more vigorous plants that compete with it for light and nutrients. Disturbance also exposes dormant seeds in the soil seed bank, allowing them to germinate.

Back from the Brink volunteer Lynne Goble, who re-found the Grange Heath population said “I never thought I was ever going to find this wee plant - can’t believe how excited I am!” So are we.

You can read more about the Yellow Centaury in our Factsheet: Yellow Centaury SL.docx

 

Sophie Lake, Plantlife

Project Manager - Dorset Heathland's Heart

 

Would you like to help these incredible species? There are numerous ways in which you can:

  • Why not volunteer for Back from the Brink? Check out our events page for opportunities near you.
  • Help us to spread the word of this species, and the others we will be helping over the next 3 years, by sharing our message across our Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube pages. Follow us: @naturebftb.
  • Finally - help support the work we do across England by donating. Our impact will be greater with your help.

 

Dipping my Toes into Forest Bathing

Most of us that work in Nature Conservation are subconsciously aware that nature is ‘good for us’ that it makes us feel better and can lift our mood. Many of us perhaps consciously prescribe ourselves that lunchtime walk, or make time to be outdoors in order to benefit our own well-being. The idea that people need nature is one that is being researched more and more each year, with startling findings emerging.

Regular contact with nature improves your mental well-being, can help reduce post operation recovery times, reduces stress, reduces pain and lowers blood pressure. Doctors are increasingly beginning to prescribe outdoor activities such as nature walks as one strand of tackling conditions such as mild depression and anxiety, obesity and addiction.

This all seems fantastically positive and progressive, except that I was surprised to discover that it has been formally recognised and going on for years in other parts of the world. In Japan the activity known as Shinrin Yoku, which translates as Forest Bathing or Forest Therapy became common practice in the 1970’s after the government commissioned a study into whether spending regular walks in forests proved to be more beneficial than carrying out the same regular exercise in a city. The study found that overwhelmingly it was. It improved sleep, increased ‘natural killer’ cells, anti-cancer cells which fight disease and a whole host of other incredible and scientifically proved improvements!

Here in Dorset our project is focused on Heathland habitats, rather than woodland or forests, but trees are an important part of the landscape and usually aren’t far away. Heaths need to be managed as such to retain their ecological value, left to their own devices they will eventually return to woodland. In addition, many of our heaths were used, particularly in wartime, for creating plantations – providing quick growing timber for boat-building and other military needs. Therefore the majority of the Dorset Heaths are flanked by either pine plantation or broadleaf and mixed woodland, with some overlap of species.

I have a strong interest in connecting people to nature, not only through learning and scientific study, but through well-being, the arts, emotional connection and simply the enjoyment and value of being among nature. So when I had the chance to attend a two-day course near Dartmoor on Forest Bathing and how to lead sessions for groups, how could I turn it down!?

So what does Forest Bathing involve? Many people are scared off by the term thinking it involves stripping off and plunging into water (it doesn’t) or sitting in circles meditating (not necessarily.) Essentially, it means immersing yourself within the forest, spending time there. At least two hours at a time to be precise, a minimum of two hours is recommended in order to make a difference to your health and well-being.

Myself and one of our Back from the Brink volunteers Kat launched ourselves into the spirit of the course, attempting to disconnect from our busy lives and switch off for a couple of days, and see if we really did sleep better. I admit there were a few moments of barefoot tree hugging, which wouldn’t appeal to everyone, but essentially, they focus in on your senses. We were guided to do straightforward exercises such as closing our eyes and exploring the textures of a tree or leaf, getting comfortable sitting against a tree and focusing on breathing, or listening to as many sounds as we could near or far. For people who have experience leading outdoor sessions none of these exercises were too far out of our comfort zone, in fact they were pretty straightforward, but it was nice to be given time and allow ourselves to connect with the forest in this way, and knowing it was going to improve our health helped too! There are other angles you can explore during your sessions ‘bathing’ in the woods such as smell and taste. We were given the opportunity to experience the scent of various essential oils that had originated from the forest, we had a cup of tea made infused with pine needles, and there was a chance to listen to some poetry inspired by the trees.

I had a great time on the course, I did sleep well that night although I will never know if that was the trees doing their job or the fact that I was staying in a hotel away from my frequently waking toddler! I came home with a renewed sense of purpose around spending time with nature. I have since been able to run a session along with Kat to pass on what I learnt to colleagues, volunteers and partner organisations, and inspire friends. It’s good to be reminded that spending time outdoors is never wasted – all those hours spent out surveying for rare creatures that don’t appear are never in vain, our immune systems will be thanking us for taking a break from the screen.

We often talk of going out and spending time in nature, as if it is something to discover and conquer, whereas many see this type of practice, forest therapy, as a natural antidote to the modern life. We ARE nature, we are part of wildlife and the natural world and therefore to immerse ourselves within it isn’t something new or strange but in fact is returning to the normal state that makes sense. Our lives have pulled us far away from the natural world and for many people the nearest experience they will get of it is through a TV or phone screen, perhaps we need nature more than we realise and would benefit greatly the more we start to see ourselves as part of it rather than looking for it.

Lindsey Death, Plantlife

Outreach Officer - Dorset Heathland's Heart

 

Would you like to help these incredible species? There are numerous ways in which you can:

  • Why not volunteer for Back from the Brink? Check out our events page for opportunities near you.
  • Help us to spread the word of this species, and the others we will be helping over the next 3 years, by sharing our message across our Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube pages. Follow us: @naturebftb.
  • Finally - help support the work we do across England by donating. Our impact will be greater with your help.

 

A previously extinct butterfly has bred successfully in an English woodland for the first time in more than 40 years as part of the ambitious conservation project, Back from the Brink.

Freshly emerged Chequered Skippers have been regularly spotted over the last few weeks at a secret location in Rockingham Forest, Northamptonshire, and it is hoped they will become the foundation of a new English population of the butterfly.

The butterflies are the offspring of adults collected in Belgium and released at the Northants site last spring as part of the project by wildlife charity Butterfly Conservation, working in partnership with Forestry England.

In recent weeks, ecologists from Butterfly Conservation have successfully released a further batch of Belgian Chequered Skippers at the Rockingham Forest site.

It is hoped that the three-year project will build a large, resilient and sustainable population of Chequered Skipper across the whole landscape.

Butterfly Conservation’s Dr Nigel Bourn said: “Seeing my first ever English-born Chequered Skipper, just as we were about to release the ones we had bought back from Belgium was an incredible moment, as a scientist I was surprised by the sheer emotion of the moment.

“I saw in one tiny butterfly the result of so many peoples’ hard work and dedication that has got us to the point where we have achieved this major milestone in the return of the Chequered Skipper to England.

“Reintroducing a species is not a quick fix, and the challenge now is to make sure that woodland management across the landscape can provide the habitats the Chequered Skipper needs into the future.”

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 have adopted different land management practices to help improve wildlife habitats, making them the ideal partner for this reintroduction project.

The Back from the Brink project has been successful in parts of the Chequered Skipper’s former stronghold Rockingham Forest that have been restored by Forestry England to ideal conditions with wide, flower-filled rides.

Forestry England Ecology and Heritage Manager for the Central England District, Adrienne Bennett, said: We are thrilled that the hard work by Forestry England staff over many years has created the ideal habitat for the reintroduction of the Chequered skipper on our site. We hope the butterfly thrives and the population is able to spread from here.”

Last month Butterfly Conservation ecologists travelled to Belgium to collect Chequered Skipper adults from the Fagne-Famenne region in the south of the country, where they are widespread, with the help of Belgian experts from the Research Institute for Nature and Forest and the Department for the Study of the Natural and Agricultural Environment.

Adults were chosen from Belgium rather than the only other UK population in Scotland as the Belgian Chequered Skippers are found in a similar landscape to Rockingham Forest and share the same caterpillar food-plant, False Brome that the English colonies used prior to their extinction.

The reintroduction forms part of the Roots of Rockingham project which is working across a network of sites to restore the forest to its former glory helping many woodland species including the Willow Tit, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and Barbastelle Bat.

It is hoped that once the butterfly population is secure, the public will be able to visit and enjoy seeing Chequered Skippers fly in England again.

Back from the Brink Communications Manager James Harding-Morris said: “Whilst these are only the first steps towards re-establishing the Chequered Skipper in England, it still feels like a wrong has been righted. We are delighted that through Back from the Brink so many species are being given this ‘second chance’ to survive – and hopefully thrive – alongside humanity.”

 

Back from the Brink, 28.06.2019.

 

 

 

Would you like to help these incredible species? There are numerous ways in which you can:

  • Why not volunteer for Back from the Brink? Check out our events page for opportunities near you.
  • Help us to spread the word of this species, and the others we will be helping over the next 3 years, by sharing our message across our Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube pages. Follow us: @naturebftb.
  • Finally - help support the work we do across England by donating. Our impact will be greater with your help.

 

Pale Dog Violet

The scintillating sight of the milky-white petals of Pale Dog-violet (Viola lactea) - so electrified with deep purple veins - has been sadly disappearing from heathlands for decades, to the point that it is now endangered in England.

But thanks to the work of staff and volunteers from the Plantlife-led Back from the Brink conservation team to clear spiky gorse, we’re seeing a wonderful re-emergence: across the heaths Pale Dog-violet is bouncing back from the brink as it emerges from the shade. The conservation success story is remarkable given Pale Dog-violet is a particularly temperamental species that both likes the protection from grazing and trampling provided by gorse yet loathes being completely shaded. What we are seeing is a keen rebalancing to allow Pale Dog-violet to once again necklace the trackways of the heaths.

Pale Dog-violet is just one of 19 scarce and declining species the project are working to save and protect including lesser butterfly orchid, chamomile, yellow centaury, pillwort, and march clubmoss plants. Back from the Brink, supported by Heritage Lottery Fund, is an ambitious partnership project to save 20 species from extinction and benefit over 200 more.

To view the published document click here.

Luke Morton

Plantlife

 

Would you like to help these incredible species? There are numerous ways in which you can:

  • Why not volunteer for Back from the Brink? Check out our events page for opportunities near you.
  • Help us to spread the word of this species, and the others we will be helping over the next 3 years, by sharing our message across our Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube pages. Follow us: @naturebftb.
  • Finally - help support the work we do across England by donating. Our impact will be greater with your help.