Sunday, 5 June 2016

Chequered past, bright future

At the end of our recent trip to the Outer Hebrides, we calculated that, weather permitting, there should be time to look for one of our rarest and most localised butterflies, the Chequered Skipper, as we passed near some of its strongholds in Invernesshire and Argyll on the way south.
The pearly underwing of the Chequered Skipper resting on a Bluebell
Argent & Sable, a nationally scarce moth, was a bonus at Allt Mhuic
The original plan was to head for a well known site at Glasdrum Wood, near where I spent a week at Easter. But on disembarking the ferry at Uig and setting the satnav we realised we had forgotten how big Scotland was! We were concerned that it might have been too late by the time we arrived there so we quickly hatched a Plan B to head for the Butterfly Conservation reserve at Allt Mhuic, an hour further north and therefore closer to us, and only a short detour off our main route south. I had not been to the reserve before, and my travelling companions had never seen Chequered Skipper, so all agreed it was well worth the diversion.
We bounced along the minor road which skirts the northern shore of Loch Arkaig admiring the attractive landscape and eventually found the reserve entrance. After a brisk walk anti-clockwise around the circular route with no sightings, I came across the first Chequered Skipper on the path on the downward slope heading back towards the car park. Once we had seen one, others started to appear and we admired their feisty, territorial behaviour.
The Chequered Skipper went extinct in England in the 1970s but, after a failed reintroduction in Lincolnshire in the 1990s, plans were announced last year to reintroduce it to suitably managed habitat in the East Midlands. Good news indeed which will hopefully lead to it becoming established in its former English haunts - though for dramatic backdrops, the Scottish colonies will remain difficult to beat. A spectacular setting, a lovely reserve and a fitting end to an excellent trip before the long journey south - a big thanks to my co-pilots Dave Bradnum and Paul Welling for their company.

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