Spotter’s guide to the Forest’s butterflies - The Heart of England Forest


Over 30 species of butterfly call the Forest home, and it is always a joy to catch a glimpse of these colourful inhabitants on a woodland walk.

From spring into summer, the Forest is alive with activity as butterflies emerge and search for nectar. Colour, shape and distinctive markings all help in identifying butterflies, along with when and where in the woods you see them.

Early and overwintering butterflies

There is one thing that might surprise you. The butterflies that you see first in springtime have overwintered and are not all newly hatched. Some overwinter as adults, larva or more commonly as pupae and in some instances as eggs:

  • Eggs – hairstreaks (brown, purple, white letter)
  • Lava – speckled wood, ringlet
  • Pupae – speckled wood, orange tip, small white
  • Adult – small tortoiseshell, brimstone, peacock, comma

Spotter’s guide to the Forest’s butterflies


Close up of peacock butterfly on knapweed

The first of the overwintering butterflies to emerge, they have hibernated in houses and hollow trees. Likely to be found in the woodland rides in the Forest, their distinctive large peacock eye spots dominating all four wings make them easy to identify. The next brood will emerge in July and the progeny of these will then overwinter.


Close up of brimstone butterfly on delphina

One of the first species to be seen in springtime. Where you see thistles, knapweed and teasel in the Forest, often in woodland rides, you are likely to find them. Look out for their distinctive, leaf-shaped wings and pale-yellow colour.


Close up of coma butterfly on purple flowers

First seen having emerged from hibernation in the leaf litter in woodland glades and hedges. Its wings have jagged edges and are bright orange in colour which attracts the eye. Look out for it on flowering nettles.

Small tortoiseshell

Close up of small tortoiseshell butterfly on blue corn flower

Having emerged on warm days in March from their hibernation sites, they are to be found on footpaths through fields and by hedges, feeding on dandelions and catkins. With its striking patterns, it is one of the most well-known butterflies in the UK.

Orange tip

Close up of orange tip butterfly

They hatch from the pupae stage in early/mid-April onwards. Along country lanes and down woodland tracks in early June is where you can see male orange tip butterflies as they patrol their territories. The female has grey/black wing tips.


Close up of ringlet butterfly on seed pods

These butterflies enjoy the tall wet grass on woodland rides, as well as near streams and ponds. Unlike many butterflies the ringlet can be seen flying even in dull weather conditions. Their dark brown wings, males almost black, have a number of eyespots which have white centres surrounded by black and yellow rings.

Speckled wood

Close up of speckled wood butterfly on leaves

Having survived the winter as a pupa hanging from a fence, a wall, or tree trunk. They are to be found in the field margins, footpaths against a wood and along rides in the wood in the dappled light. Often seen spiralling upwards in twos or more in a spot of light striking through the canopy.

Purple hairstreak

Close up of purple hairstreak butterfly on leaf

Easily missed if you only watch at eyelevel, as they mainly live high up in the canopy of oak trees. In dry spells during mid-summer, they come down to the ground to take water from the edge of the muddy puddles. Their black wings turn purple when they catch the light.

Creating habitats for butterflies

The importance of managing our woodlands by creating a diverse age structure, through coppicing, thinning out standards, cutting the rides and creating scalloped glades, all help to provide a range of woodland habitats where butterflies and other insects can flourish.

The newer woodlands in the Forest are designed with large interconnected woodland rides, perfect for butterflies to explore and expand their populations.

Wherever you are in the Forest, one plant butterflies love is bramble. So, if you find some on your daily walk, wait and see which colourful visitors come and join you. Find out about visiting the Forest.

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