The beautiful blues of summer

The beautiful blues of summer

Posted 12th Jul 2017

Image courtesy of © Margaret Holland

Amongst our butterflies, one group will best sum up the hottest days of high summer

Picture the scene. On a south-facing downland slope, with the scent of thyme and marjoram on the air, swallows skimming low over the grass and the buzzing of grasshoppers in your ears, bright blue butterflies skip and chase across the hillside.

An incredibly rare beast, the large blue will only be found in a tiny handful of locations where it has been introduced, and the small blue flies earlier in the year. However, the other five 'blues' are all on the wing in the summer holidays. The dainty silver-studded blue is a butterfly of heathlands, where caterpillars feed on gorse amongst other plants - you could come across it while keeping an eye out for reptiles or Dartford warblers. The silvery-pale holly blue can then be seen flitting about like a twinkling silver coin in gardens and parks, where it will feed on holly and ivy.

But it is on the grasslands that the blues really come into their own. The familiar common blue, the large powder-blue chalkhill blue and the dazzling azure Adonis blues can be seen on the wing together, and in the best years on the best sites, they will appear in breathtaking numbers. So sit back on the hillside and watch the cloud of blue butterflies tumble around you.

How to do it

Butterflies are at their best on a still, sunny day. Wind or rain will therefore not be a butterfly-watchers friend. You should look out for the caterpillar's food plants and flowers where butterflies find nectar - favourites include birds-foot trefoil horseshoe vetch, rock-rose and knapweed.

Most of the blues are restricted to specific locations, primarily in the south of England. However, the common blue can be found throughout the country, while the holly blue is a frequent visitor to gardens across England and lowland parts of Wales.

Special spots:

The large blue was re-introduced to Daneway Banks in Gloucestershire in 2002 and this special site now boasts the largest population in the country of this rare butterfly.

Bedfordshire, Blow’s Downs

Bedfordshire, Totternhoe

Berkshire, Wildmoor Heath

Buckinghamshire, Yoesden

Dorset, Upton Heath

Dorset, Fontmell Down

Dorset, Tout Quarries

Dorset, Tadnoll and Winfrith 

Hampshire, St Catherine’s Hill

Isle of Wight, Arreton Down

London, Hutchinson's Bank

Norfolk, Roydon Common and Grimston Warren

Oxfordshire, Hartslock

Suffolk, Blaxhall Common

Surrey, Sheepleas

Sussex, Ditchling Beacon

Sussex, Malling Down (Chalkhill, Adonis and common blues)

Sussex, Southerham

Sussex, Levin Down

Information courtesy of The Wildlife Trusts

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