Last month the Disease Risk Analysis and Health Surveillance (DRAHS) team were busy in the field helping with the exciting reintroduction of the chequered skipper butterfly to England. The reintroduction project is a collaboration between Natural England, Butterfly Conservation, Back from the Brink and ZSL.
The chequered skipper butterfly became extinct in England in 1976. It is thought this occurred as a result of habitat loss caused by changes in woodland management which saw a decline in coppicing and ride management along with an increase in conifer plantations. The good news is that in recent years there have been efforts to manage English woodlands and that means that there is once again suitable habitat available for the butterflies!
Project planning started in 2012 and a suitable donor population was found in the forests of Belgium. After the DRAHS team carried out a full disease risk analysis (DRA) for the project it got the green light in 2018.
Just to clarify what we mean by disease risk analysis… A DRA is a very detailed qualitative risk assessment carried out to understand the infectious and non-infectious hazards that might precipitate during a translocation. One of the aims of the DRA in this case was to make sure that bringing butterflies from Belgium to England would not result in any kind of disease outbreak in the UK. The good news was that the DRA found that there really were very few risks of reintroducing butterflies and that by carrying out some simple measures it would be very straightforward to prevent disease problems.
In June 2019 ZSL vets Dr Tony Sainsbury and Dr Tammy Shadbolt went out to Belgium and accompanied biologists and the collected butterflies all the way from Europe to the release site here in the UK. Tammy carried out clinical examinations on all the butterflies using a magnifying glass to carefully assess the condition of the wings, the antennae, the legs and even the mouthparts! Examination ensured the butterflies were 'fit for transport' and then once in the UK that the butterflies were 'fit for release'.
Thankfully the butterflies coped really well with the journey and all 24 were released successfully at the English woodland reintroduction site. It was fantastic to watch the butterflies settling in well and feeding straight-away after release. Hopefully those butterflies will now go on, mate, lay eggs and produce another generation of chequered skippers, helping to grow the population once again in England!
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