By Jamie Wildman
Natural England, through its Species Recovery Programme Capital Grant Scheme, has recently awarded Butterfly Conservation funding for a project called ‘Threatened Species Recovery for Northamptonshire’s Woodlands’. Here, Jamie Wildman writes about his leading role in the project and explains the value of stepping stones!
I’m very excited to have been appointed as Butterfly Conservation’s Northamptonshire Landscape Officer for this new project, which aims to improve the prospects for six target species in Rockingham Forest and South Northamptonshire: three butterflies (Grizzled Skipper, Dingy Skipper, and Wood White), two moths (Concolorous and Liquorice Piercer), and one reptile (Adder).
Conveniently, I live in Kettering, in the middle of these two landscapes, but I’m going to be based at Top Lodge in Fineshade Wood. I’ll be working alongside Butterfly Conservation’s long-standing Chequered Skipper Project Manager, Susannah O’Riordan, whom many of you will already know. Susannah will be overseeing the ongoing reintroduction of the Chequered Skipper butterfly to Rockingham Forest.
Three of the project’s target species of butterflies. Above is a Grizzled Skipper (Photo: David James) and below are a Wood White (Photo: David James) and Dingy Skipper (Photo: Jamie Wildman). You can read more about these species here
I’m no stranger to the Chequered Skipper, having spent time researching its reintroduction, as well as its ecology and history in England for my PhD at the University of Northampton, which resulted in this thesis. Between 2018 and 2022, I was lucky enough to be able to spend most of my time in the late spring and early summer monitoring adult Chequered Skippers in Fineshade Wood, and the rest of the year striving to understand their habitat requirements and the factors that led to the local extinction of the species in the 1970s. One of the main reasons the butterfly declined in England was poor habitat connectivity, caused by habitat fragmentation and isolation – the splitting up of, and increasing distance between, suitable areas of habitat. Afforestation, coppice abandonment, and deteriorating habitat quality were also identified as reasons for its disappearance.
Adder - another of the project’s target species (Photo: John Baker). More here
Through this new project, we will address the problem of habitat connectivity by creating stepping stones for our six target species, which are faced with many of the same drivers of decline as the Chequered Skipper. We will be creating sunny, sheltered woodland features such as scallops and box junctions, as well as widening rides across Rockingham Forest and South Northamptonshire to help our target species to disperse across both landscapes. These species are ‘specialists’ with very particular habitat requirements (as opposed to ‘generalists’ like the Peacock and Whites) and limited ability to fly (or slither!) long distances. Our new stepping stones will help them to close the gap between their favourite patches and ‘hop’ from one to the next, thereby reducing habitat isolation and improving connectivity. Of course, these new features will benefit a host of other species that appreciate the same woodland edge habitat, too!
Butterfly Conservation will not be alone on this project. We will be working in partnership with Natural England, Forestry England, North Northamptonshire Council, and Landal Rockingham Forest Park to help deliver our landscape-scale goals. We will also be hoping to enlist lots of volunteer support and to run a host of activities in 2024 and beyond. These will include work parties, butterfly monitoring days, moth trapping events, and Adder walkover surveys. So, if you specialise in any of our target species, or would like to learn more and find out how you can help, please email me at email@example.com
Hoping to hear from you and to meet you out in the wood someday soon,