Thursday, 27 October 2011

Chequered Skipper – Rare butterfly numbers double in Lochaber

Recent monitoring results of Chequered Skipper butterfly numbers at Lochaber’s Allt Mhuic butterfly reserve on the north shore of Loch Arkaig show that numbers have increased for the second year running.

The butterfly, which can only be found in the UK at a handful of Scottish sites, in and around Lochaber and north Argyll, is staging a remarkable come-back after several years of decline.

After reaching a low point of only 3 counted on the reserve’s butterfly transect (a standard way of monitoring butterfly populations) in 2009, new management practices were introduced at the reserve, run by Forestry Commission Scotland, in 2010 and the recorded population has now increased five fold

The reversal of fortunes is down to the Commission using 15 Highland Cattle from its 100 strong Lochaber herd to graze specific areas during the year, benefiting the habitat and the food plants that Chequered Skippers prefer.

Independent eco-consultant, Tony Millard, who has been monitoring the project since it began in 2002, said:

“These latest results are a terrific achievement for the Commission’s local team, who all show a real passion for what they are doing.

“Back in 2005 we recorded 38 Chequered Skipper along the transect and that declined year-on-year until 2009, when we only counted 3. The Commission then brought the cattle in during the winter and we’ve seen Chequered skipper numbers surge – up to 8 in 2010 and now 15 this year.

“That is a brilliant result - especially as the poor summer has generally meant fewer butterflies across the UK. The cows have done an excellent job and must take much of the credit!”

The Allt Mhuic reserve remains one of the primary sites for the development and refinement of grazing regimes for the conservation cattle herd based in Glen Garry.

Approximately 100 cattle, in smaller groups are grazing areas at the Sound of Mull (Savary), Poloch, Loch Shiel (Scamadale), Glen Loy, Cow Hill above Fort William and the original site at Loch Arkaig – and during 2011, Chequered Skipper were confirmed on all of these sites.

Kevin Peace, the local District Manager said:

“Our conservation cattle are a valuable resource, carrying out work where machines would find it impossible to function, and doing their thing 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year.

“Seeing Chequered Skipper numbers increase like this indicates that introducing cattle to Allt Mhuic – and other sites – was definitely the right thing to do. It’s great news for the butterfly, but conservation grazing is also helping the beautiful demoiselle, black grouse, and plants such as the montane or dwarf birch and juniper.”

Tom Prescott from Butterfly Conservation Scotland confirmed:

“It is great to be able to point to exemplary sites where there is practice in place to show how sites can be managed.”

Notes to Editors
1) Forestry Commission Scotland serves as the Scottish Government’s forestry directorate and manages the 660,000 hectare national forest estate. The Commission protects, manages and expands Scotland’s forests and woodlands in a way which benefits biodiversity, communities and the economy.

2) Alt Mhuic reserve lies on the north Shore of Loch Arkaig approx 15 miles from Fort William and is open all year round.

3) Highland Cattle are present all year but graze different habitats within the reserve according to season. Currently there are 15 cattle as a permanent group on the site, part of the wider Garry Pinewood cattle grazing project. At least two other sites are now being grazed on a regime that we pioneered at the Butterfly Reserve, but The Alt Mhuic reserve remains the first and will be the core of the Commission’s butterfly management within the forest district.

4) Detailed monitoring of butterfly species and habitats has been carried out by Forest Research and independent consultants since the reserve was established.

5) The Chequered skipper butterfly is one of six key species in Forestry Commission Scotland’s Biodiversity Action Plan, which aims to carry out work across the national forest estate to help conserve and enhance species numbers. The other key species are, black grouse, capercaillie, Pearl-bordered Fritillary, juniper and red squirrel.

6) Butterfly Conservation is the largest insect conservation charity in Europe with nearly 15,000 members in the UK. Its aim is the conservation of butterflies, moths and their habitats. It runs conservation programmes on over 100 threatened species of butterfly and moth as well as world leading recording and monitoring programmes. For more information, visit

7) For more information about the reserve and the butterfly species present visit

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