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Rockingham Forest Blog

  • Writer's pictureJamie Wildman

Butterfly Conservation's work last winter

By Jamie Wildman


Butterfly Conservation’s new project, ‘Threatened Species Recovery for Northamptonshire’s Woodlands’ got underway in the second half of 2023 with lots of habitat improvement taking place over the winter months. In his second blog post Jamie describes all that was achieved despite it being one of the wettest winters ever recorded.


Our project entitled ‘Threatened Species Recovery for Northamptonshire’s Woodlands’, is funded by Natural England and aims to improve habitat at 17 sites in total across two landscapes, Rockingham Forest and South Northamptonshire. There are six target species that should particularly benefit: the Dingy Skipper, Grizzled Skipper, and Wood White butterflies, the Concolorous and Liquorice Piercer moths, and the Adder snake.


Dingy Skipper and Grizzled Skipper (both photos by Iain Leach


These improvements will provide a network of ‘stepping stones’ to strengthen weaker populations, retain the status of core colonies, improve connectivity between sites, encourage colonisation of created habitat, and spur recolonisation of formerly occupied patches.


Habitat improvement for this project comes in many forms –

  • creating box junctions (roughly square glades at the crossroads of woodland rides)

  • creating scallops (oval-shaped clearings at the woodland edge),

  • mulching (clearing dense, scrubby vegetation along the edges of rides to encourage growth of nectar sources for adult butterflies and foodplants for caterpillars),

  • stump grinding (grinding tree stumps in cleared areas to facilitate mowing),

  • clearing ditch banks (important sunny, humid microhabitats for butterflies and reptiles),

  • and more besides!


Despite our appallingly wet winter, the scars left on the landscape during forestry works for butterflies, moths, and reptiles were very minor, thanks to our preference for machinery with tracks—which spread their weight over a larger area—rather than wheels, and the careful, low-impact working practices of our chosen contractors. Our new stepping stones across the landscape are now beginning to heal and regenerate, and in the years to come, will become ideal habitat for our project’s target species.


Here is a video showing the clearance of vegetation at Bearshank Wood during the creation of a box junction https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wTlZsuRrKMI

And here you can see ditch clearance and scraping under way in Fineshade Wood.

Section of scraped ditch at Fineshade Wood
A tracked mulcher at Castor Hanglands after completion of a scallop

Panorama of the completed box junction at Bearshank Wood

A recently widened ride at Collyweston Great Wood, following stump grinding

A corner of a new box junction at Lilford Wood

Rockingham Forest fell silent with the hum and buzz and contractor machinery at 10 sites in late winter, to be replaced by a cacophony of birdsong, rustling lime-green leaves, and the ever-swelling thrum of insects with the dawn of spring. Some of the works areas will be far less bare now than when I photographed them a few months ago, immediately following the completion of work (so please bear that in mind!). Enhancement is only one part of the process, however. We now need to demonstrate to Natural England that intervention is progressing each of our target species along its respective Species Recovery Curve.


Finished scallop at Fineshade Wood

To do this, we must first establish baseline distribution and abundance of each species at each site to compare future years against. This means lots of butterfly and reptile surveys and moth trapping before our next – and the project’s final – round of winter works begins in the autumn. Speaking of which, if you’d like to help out butterfly and moth surveys this May-June, or Adder surveys until the autumn, please drop me an email at jwildman@butterfly-conservation.org!



Volunteers clearing a bank at Fermyn Woods Country Park during a winter work party
The same bank at Fermyn Woods Country Park after the work party
Winter work party volunteers at the start of one of our five events At Fermyn Woods Country Park

Finally, now it’s butterfly season, we have a few upcoming Species Recovery Programme events (with many more TBC, so please keep an eye on my Twitter and the Beds & Northants Branch of Butterfly Conservation Facebook page for updates!).


May 12th: Our first guided butterfly walk, co-hosted by the Beds & Northants Branch, is from 10am-2pm at Fermyn Woods Country Park. Come and see Dingy and Grizzled Skippers and other species of butterfly, such as Green Hairstreak and see the work we completed over the winter thanks to our volunteers and contractors. Event page: https://butterfly-conservation.org/events/fermyn-woods-country-park-northants.


May 16th: Wood White, Dingy, Grizzled, and Chequered Skipper identification and survey training day at Fineshade Wood from 9:30am-1pm. Event page: https://butterfly-conservation.org/events/butterfly-identification-and-survey-training-day-fineshade-wood 


June 5th: Guided butterfly walk at Salcey Forest from 10am-2pm. Event page: https://butterfly-conservation.org/events/salcey-forest-northants.

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