Back from the Brink, Roots of Rockingham - background
The aim of the national lottery-funded project is to help save species that are on the brink of extinction in the UK - and one of the areas of particular interest for the project is Rockingham Forest - the fragmented woodland landscape between Peterborough and Corby. Fineshade Wood is one of the largest fragments of that ancient hunting forest. The aim is to re-introduce the extinct Chequered Skipper butterfly and to improve the habitat of a network of key woodland sites for threatened wildlife.
More about the national project
More than 100 wildflowers, birds, butterflies and other animals could be saved from extinction thanks to a £4.6m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Back from the Brink is an innovative project to save our rarest and most threatened wildlife such as Grey-long-eared Bats, Pine Martens, Crayfish, Willow Tits and the Large Blue Butterfly.
Led by Natural England, the project involves Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, Bat Conservation Trust, Buglife, Bumblebee Conservation Trust, Butterfly Conservation, Plantlife and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. It is the first time that so many conservation organisations have joined forces to tackle species extinction. The scope of the project is huge – to save 20 species from extinction and to help another 118 on the road to recovery.
In 2016 the project went through a development phase, where plans were put together in preparation for the second round funding bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund. HLF funding was confirmed in March 2017 and the project was launched later that year. It will run for 4 years.
The Roots of Rockingham project
One of the local areas where the project will operate is Rockingham Forest and here Butterfly Conservation is the leading organisation, working with other partners including RSPB, ARC and the Bat Conservation Trust. The project here aims to improve the woodlands for special species such as Barbastelle Bat, Adder, Willow Tit, Fly Orchid and the Concolorous moth.
However, the headline species is the Chequered Skipper butterfly. The species formerly occurred in this country, inhabiting larger woods of central and east England. Here the butterfly's larvae fed on specific grasses: mainly False Brome (Brachypodium sylvaticum), Tor Grass (Brachypodium pinnatum) and Small-reeds (Calamagrostis spp). Many of the butterfly's last known sites in England were the larger woods of north-east Northamptonshire - the fragments of Rockingham Forest, although the last confirmed record was just over the border in Rutland. The precise habitat requirements of the butterfly are not fully understood, although flower-rich areas in sunny, sheltered locations are crucial for adults, with suitable grasses necessary for the larvae. It was last recorded here in 1976 and was thought to have become extinct because of changes to the woodland habitat.
As well as carrying out direct habitat work for the target species, the project will also give people the opportunity to learn about the rich woodland wildlife found within the Rockingham Forest area. There will be a programme of guided walks, talks and moth nights, enabling people to learn about the special species found in Rockingham Forest. There will also be opportunities for people to join in with the work of the project, volunteering to help save these threatened species.
Willow Tit. Photo Bob Bullock
One of the threatened species still hanging on (just!) in Fineshade Wood
Male Chequered Skipper. Photo Peter Eeles
During the development phase the actual sites that the project would use in Rockingham Forest had to be decided, but Friends of Fineshade believed that there were strong reasons to choose Fineshade Wood. Here are some of them.
Why choose Fineshade?
Fineshade is one of the largest remaining fragments of Rockingham Forest.
Its size and position make it one of the key parts of the forest.
Fineshade is a rich mix of habitat types: actual Ancient Woodland, regenerating Ancient Woodland, plantations, ponds and a stream.
Natural England, which leads the Back for the Brink project, appreciates the ecological value of the wood. Their Chief Executive has said that "Fineshade Wood is a wonderful place for wildlife."
There is what seems to be ideal potential habitat for the Chequered Skipper in a number of locations. (Flower-rich areas adjacent to widespread False Brome.)
Several of the other target threatened species still survive here. (Barbastelle Bat and Concolorous moth have been recorded. Willow Tits and Spotted Flycatchers still occur and Adders are widespread.)
The Top Lodge Visitor Centre could provide facilities for the public involvement part of the project (carpark, cafe, meeting room, exhibition space, accessible forest trails, wildlife hide.)
The Friends of Fineshade, with a commitment to protecting and enjoying the woodland, would be very supportive of the project if based here.
Support from the Friends
During the development phase the national project asked for views and involvement in helping to shape the design of the project and this included completing an online survey. Many Friends of Fineshade took part of in the survey, which served as a means of showing support for the project and providing an opportunity to make suggestions on the project's design.
Barbastelle Bat. Photo Phil Richardson
This rare species has been detected in Fineshade. It was rediscovered after a long absence in Old Sulehay Wood, to the east of Fineshade in 2003.
Adder. Photo Jandy Photography
Adders are common at Top Lodge and throughout Fineshade Wood, making it probably the best site for this species in the region.