National Trust’s top twenty butterfly sites

One of the National Trust’s wildlife experts Matthew Oates is celebrating his 50th season of butterflying in 2013.  He has handpicked his top twenty National Trust sites for spotting these symbols of summer.

Matthew Oates and 50 years of Butterfly watching

Matthew Oates and 50 years of Butterfly watching

Commenting on the reason that butterflies have such a widespread appeal Matthew commented: “Butterflies are one of our most enduring symbols of summer, and they are important indicators of the health of our environment and of the ways in which climate change is impacting it.   I’ve chosen twenty of the best National Trust sites where the grace and beauty of butterflies during their brief but colourful lives can be enjoyed by everyone.

Matthew’s top twenty National Trust butterfly sites are:

  • Afton, Compton and Brook Downs on the Isle of Wight – Blue is the hue, as the sky-blue and electric-azure of the Chalkhill and Adonis Blues set the Downs aglow for a few fleeting weeks in August. Clouded Yellows are usually frequent in late summer.  There is also an Adonis Blue brood in June and lots of Small Blue too.
  • Arnside Knott on the Cumbria/Lancashire border – One of only two places in England for the Scotch Argus, which is dusky black with red border spots and flies during the end of July and beginning of August.  Also a top site for the rare and declining High Brown Fritillary, big, bold and fast flying in July.   In June you can see the Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary and Northern Brown Argus.
  • Ashclyst Forest in Devon – Pearl-bordered Fritillary and Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary fly in the open spaces in June.  In July and August, Ashclyst turns in to a butterfly forest teeming with white Admirals, Silver-Washed Fritillaries and Purple Hairstreaks.
  • Ballard Down at Swanage – The chalk ridge behind Swanage is one of the finest places for an array of butterflies, including the Lulworth Skipper which flies in July and August only on the Purbeck hills.  Chalkhill Blue, Adonis Blue and Dark-green Fritillary also abound, and you can also see migrant butterflies like the Clouded Yellow here.
  • Barrington Court Garden in South Somerset – Seriously good for butterflies in late summer.  The organic walled kitchen garden is, perhaps unfortunately, great for Cabbage Whites!  Buddleias, Michaelmas Daisies and Hemp Agrimony attract myriad Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock for nectar.  In autumn, numerous Red Admiral, Comma, Speckled Wood and Small Copper get intoxicated on fallen fruit in the orchards.  We have even recorded the excessively rare Long-tailed Blue here.
  • Bookham Common in Surrey – In mid-July Bookham plays host to the regal Purple Emperor, the UK’s greatest butterfly. It takes a little guile to track them down but it’s worth it.  The wood is also great for White Admiral and Silver-washed Fritillary.  The rare ‘Black Admiral’ – colour form of the White Admiral – occurs.
  • Calstone Combes and Cherhill Downs on the North Wiltshire chalk – Escape to one of the Trust’s secret butterflying hot spots, in search of Marsh Fritillary and Green Hairstreak in early June, Dark-green Fritillary and Chalkhill Blue in July and abundant Adonis Blue in late summer.
  • Cissbury Ring on the South Downs in West Sussex – Look out for four showstoppers on Cissbury Ring’s downland in July and August: the Chalkhill Blue, Adonis Blue, Dark Green Fritillary and the Marbled White.
  • Coleton Fishacre Garden in Devon – The definitive wildlife garden, in a sheltered combe on the Devon coast near Dartmouth.  In spring, Orange Tip, Green-veined White, Peacock and Holly Blue abound.  This garden is seriously good for butterflies in August and September: migrant Clouded Yellow, Red Admiral and Painted Lady are frequent, Common Blue and Marbled White breed in the grassland, Wall Brown patrols the banks, and the common butterflies are everywhere.  Essential visiting.  Rare vagrant butterflies such as the Monarch can appear here.
  • Collard Hill in mid Somerset – The only place in Britain where people are freely able to see the rare, reintroduced Large Blue butterfly – now is the best time to go.  Marbled White and Brown Argus also occur, and in late summer the elusive Brown Hairstreak can be tracked down here.
  • Compton Chine on the Isle of Wight coast – Usually the best place for the rare Glanville Fritillary, the Isle of Wight’s special butterfly, in June.  Also Wall Brown and Common Blue.  And a lovely bathing beach too.
  • Denbies Hillside on the North Downs in Surrey – This is the place to see the dazzling Adonis and Chalkhill Blues in July and August, so dense in numbers you have to watch each step.  Grizzled and Dingy Skippers fly in early summer, and there are Silver-spotted Skippers in August.
  • Heddon Valley in Devon – It’s the Fritillaries that shine in this wooded valley in July and August: with numerous High Brown, the Dark Green and the Silver-Washed fritillaries, all mixed up together.
  • Horsey in the Norfolk Broads – In June you may catch a glimpse of the rare giant Swallowtail over the reed beds along the edge of the mere, from the footpaths.  Orange Tip, Green-veined White and Wall Brown abound.  The nearby dunes are terrific for Grayling, Dark-green Fritillary, Small Copper and Common Blue in July and August.
  • Ibsley Common in the New Forest – The Forest was the home of Victorian butterfly collecting.  These heaths on the Forest’s western fringes are superb for the tiny Silver-studded Blue in July and Grayling and Small Copper during August.
  • The Langdale Pikes in Cumbria – The ultimate butterfly challenge – finding the elusive Mountain Ringlet high on the fells in late June or early July.  The humble Small Heath is the only other butterfly you will see up here, though the day-flying Wood Tiger moth counts as an honorary butterfly.  Those of weaker disposition should try the slopes above the Honister Pass youth hostel.
  • Murlough Nature Reserve in County Down – In the golden sand dunes of this beautiful stretch of the Northern Ireland coast you’ll come across Marsh Fritillary and Wood White in June, and the Dark Green Fritillary from July to mid-August and the feisty Small Copper throughout July, August and September.
  • Rodborough Common in Gloucestershire – It’s the iridescent azure beauty of the Adonis Blue to watch out for at Rodborough in August, back on in the Cotswolds after 40 years’ absence. Dark Green Fritillaries, Brown Argus, Small Blues and Chalkhill Blues can also be spotted on the common.
  • Watlington Hill in the south Chilterns – For years one of the best places for Silver-spotted Skipper, speeding low over the short grass in August.  Also, Chalkhill Blue, Brown Argus and Marbled White.  And great for watching Red Kites soaring.
  • Welshmoor Common on the Gower Peninsula in south Wales – A great place for Marsh Fritillary and the rare day-flying Narrow-bordered Bee Hawk moth in June.

For a great selection of butterfly walks on National Trust land go to or type in ‘butterfly walks’ into the search engine.  You can follow Matthew on twitter at


3 thoughts on “National Trust’s top twenty butterfly sites

  1. Pingback: British butterfly population trends | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  2. Pingback: Clouded Yellow’s on the Cliff | sherstonwildlife

  3. Pingback: England: Adonis blue butterfly comeback | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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