On the hunt for woodland beauties

On the hunt for woodland beauties

Posted 1st Aug 2017

Lead image courtesy of © Jim Higham

While some species may be common and thriving, there are a number which are in decline, and are restricted to particular habitats, in only a handful of spots

The species in trouble include a whole suite of butterflies that make their home in our woodlands, with almost all of our fritillaries in decline. The woodland species have particular plant requirements for their caterpillars, with heath fritillary preferring cow-wheat, in itself an uncommon plant. Violets will attract pearl-bordered and small pearl-bordered, silver-washed, dark green and high brown, and marsh fritillary requires devil's-bit scabious.

Our rarer hairstreaks favour mature blackthorn scrub which can be found along hedgerows or on the edge of woodland on which they will lay their eggs. The delicate wood white will require vetches and vetchlings along sunny woodland rides. Luckily, there are a few woodland butterflies bucking the trend. The large, impressive silver-washed fritillary is doing much better than its rarer cousins, pushing its range northwards, along with white admiral and speckled wood, both of which have been moving northwards in recent years.

How to do it

Sunny glades, rides and woodland edges are among the best places to look for a variety of species. Locating the larval foodplant of specialist butterflies can make searching that bit easier. Look to the skies for canopy-dwelling butterflies, such as the purple emperor and purple hairstreak, which will rarely come to nectar, and scan the tops of oak woodlands with binoculars for the best chance to spot them when in flight. Bramble patches are also good places to watch for passing white admirals, which are partial to the blossoms, while they are a favourite feeding and resting place for black, brown and white-letter hairstreaks.

Special spots

An excellent site for visiting lepidopterists, Warton Crag in Lancashire is home to four species of fritillaries, including the rare high brown fritillary which is best looked for in July.

Antrim, Glenarm 

Argyll, Shian Wood 

Avon, Weston Big Wood

Bedfordshire, King’s Wood and Rammamere Heath

Buckinghamshire, Homefield Wood

Buckinghamshire, Whitecross Green Wood

Cambridgeshire, Brampton Wood 

Cornwall, Pendarves Wood 

Cumbria, Howe Ridding Wood 

Devon, Marsland

Dorset, Powerstock Common

Durham, Hardwick Dene 

Durham, Milkwellburn Wood 

Essex, Thrift Wood 

Gloucestershire, Siccaridge Wood 

Hampshire, Pamber Forest 

Hampshire, Roydon Woods

Hertfordshire, Balls Wood

Kent, East Blean Wood (one of the best places for heath fritillary)

Lanarkshire, Forest Wood

London, Sydenham Hill Wood 

Norfolk, Foxley Wood

Northamptonshire, Glapthorn Cow Pasture (good for black hairstreak)

Northumberland, Juliet’s Wood

Nottinghamshire, Eaton and Gamston Woods 

Powys, Gilfach 

Powys, Ystradfawr 

Shropshire, Jones’ Rough

Somerset, King’s Castle Wood 

Suffolk, Bradfield Woods

Surrey, Norbury Park 

Surrey, Rodborough Common 

Wiltshire, Blackmoor Copse

Worcestershire, Grafton Wood (good for brown hairstreak)

Worcestershire, Monk Wood 

Yorkshire, Brockadale

Text and information courtesy of The Wildlife Trusts

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