Nature Studies: Isn’t it time the rarest butterfly in the UK became a bit less rare?

To find it, you need to  target an area within a 30-mile radius of Fort William

A A A

Last July, on an annual expedition with some chums to see purple emperor butterflies in a wood near Salisbury which is famous for them, I met a man  who claimed to have accomplished a remarkable feat. He had seen, he said, all 58 breeding species of British butterfly, four summers in a row.

To see them all in one summer is by no means impossible: I did it in 2009 and wrote a series about it for The Independent, which we invited readers to take part in. But it’s by no means easy, and to do it four years on the bounce, as they say in football, is quite an achievement, not least because of the time and money that need to be invested in travelling (this chap could do it because he was retired, and a full-time Lepidoptera-lover).

For several species of British butterfly require a special journey if you’re going to see them in the wild. You want to feast your eyes the swallowtail? You have to go to the Norfolk Broads. The Glanville fritillary? You have to go to the Isle of Wight. The Scotch argus? You have to go to the Scottish Highlands, or at least, to remote parts of the Lake District, and the same applies to the mountain ringlet. And to see the most elusive one of all, the chequered skipper, you have to go, not only to the Highlands, but to a specific area: Argyllshire.

Once, you didn’t. Very small, but one of the prettiest of our butterflies, the chequered skipper could be seen until 1976 in several woods in the English Midlands, especially in the region of Rockingham Forest in Northamptonshire, but that year, for reasons no one understands, it went extinct in England.

I was reminded of this last week by news from the Scottish branch of the charity Butterfly Conservation, that Carterocephalus palaemon is flourishing in its Argyll haunts; indeed a new survey has shown that it is far more widespread than previously thought.

Even so, it’s the hardest British butterfly to see because you not only have to make a special trip to its home range – it occurs solely within a 30-mile radius of Fort William – but for you to set eyes on it,  while you’re there it must not rain, which can be a tall order for Argyllshire in May and June. The winner of our readers’ competition in 2009, Andrew King, ended up seeing 57 of the 58 species, but the chequered skipper was the one which eluded him.

If you can get up north of Oban, though, and find a suitable wayleave, which is an open ride through the hillside birchwoods, cleared for electricity cables, and it does not rain and the sun comes out, you may be rewarded with one of the most uncommon and pleasurable sights in all of British natural history. The wings of the chequered skipper are a beautiful lattice of dark brown over bright sulphur-yellow, and it favours blue flowers to find nectar in, such as bugle and bluebells: if it perches on one such, the colour combination is just fantastic.

I have several times heard people discuss reintroducing the chequered skipper to England, and last week I asked Butterfly Conservation’s Chief Executive, Martin Warren, if his charity had any such plans. It certainly did, he said, but it was a question of finding the funding, because the species occurred at low density over a wide area, so as many as a dozen separate woodlands might have to be specially managed for a reintroduction to work,

Until then, if you want to see the beastie but you can’t get up to Argyll, you have an alternative: The Chequered Skipper pub in Ashton, near Oundle in Northamptonshire. This is the village of the Rothschild estate, and the thatched inn, originally called The Three Horseshoes, was renamed half a century ago by Dame Miriam Rothschild, the eccentric scientist who was our foremost 20th-century authority on butterflies, after what she considered the greatest treasure of the estate.

On the pub walls are old cases full of large tropical butterflies and moths, or there were last time I was in there. And in the bottom right-hand corner of the last case a small brown and sulphur yellow lattice is visible.

It’s a chequered skipper, all right. It’s great. It’s just a pity it’s not perched on a bluebell.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Richard Norris in GQ
mediaGQ features photo shoot with man who underwent full face transplant
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Your picture is everything in the shallow world of online dating
i100
News
The Swiss Re tower or 'Gherkin' was at one time the UK’s most expensive office when German bank IVG and private equity firm Evans Randall bought it
news
Life and Style
Attractive women on the Internet: not a myth
techOkCupid boasts about Facebook-style experiments on users
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Coordinator

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

Embedded Linux Engineer

£40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

£50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

Day In a Page

The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on