A species of butterfly not seen in England for more than 40 years will be released in Northamptonshire today (Thursday).
The chequered skipper has been extinct in the nation since 1976, although it can be found in Scotland and Belgium.
But today, after years of work, it will be released into the wild at a secret location in Rockingham Forest in the north of the county.
Dr Nigel Bourn, Butterfly Conservation director of science, said: “Today is an important milestone for conservation in the UK.
“It is a privilege to help return this charismatic little butterfly to its former stronghold of Rockingham Forest.
“It has taken many years and a lot of hard work from many people to get to this point and I am very proud to be part of the team collecting these beautiful butterflies and returning them to England at
The release comes as part of an ambitious conservation project called Back from the Brink.
Funded by the National Lottery and People’s Postcode Lottery, it aims to save 20 species from extinction and benefit at least 200 more through other projects.
The chequered skipper, although always scarce, became extinct in England as a result of habitat loss.
It was historically found in a band of woodlands and limestone grassland from Oxfordshire to Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire.
The Back from the Brink project has enabled parts of the butterfly’s former stronghold Rockingham Forest to be restored to ideal conditions with wide, flower-filled rides.
Earlier this week 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 Département de L’Etude du Milieu Naturel et Agricole.
The butterflies, a mix of males and females, were then taken via Eurostar across the channel yesterday and transferred to Rockingham where they were placed in release cages overnight ahead of today’s release.
Today’s reintroduction is the first of a number of reintroductions that will take place at sites across Rockingham Forest over the next three years with the hope of building a large, resilient and sustainable population of Chequered Skipper across the whole landscape.
Butterfly Conservation chief executive Julie Williams said: “Butterfly Conservation has been planning this reintroduction project for many years and I am delighted that by working collaboratively with our Back from the Brink partners, we have realised our ambition.
“We are so grateful to the players of the National Lottery and the Heritage Lottery Fund for their funding and support.”
The project will be closely monitored to assess its success in the early stages with the aim that in one or two years, once the 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: “It’s fantastic to see one of our Back from the Brink projects make such great strides towards restoring a species to England.
“It will be a few years before we know how much of a success this introduction has been, but during that time Back from the Brink will be working to save hundreds of other threatened species.
There will be events, training and volunteer opportunities across the country so that everyone can get involved in saving England’s most threatened species from extinction.”