A butterfly that died out from England in 1976 has bred successfully in an English woodland.

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 newly emerged butterflies are the offspring of adults collected in Belgium and released at the Northants site last spring as part of the 'Back from the Brink' 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.

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.”