Top 20 places to see butterflies in the wild

monarch butterflies and tree

Want to know when to spot the elusive Brown Hair Streak butterfly; or where numbers of the beautiful Chalkhill Blue are so dense you'll have to watch your step? Check out our list of the top 20 places to see butterflies, compiled by top butterfly expert, The National Trust's Matthew Oates.

'Butterflies are one of our most enduring symbols of summer,' says Matthew, who has studied butterflies for more than 40 years. 'We've chosen 20 of the best National Trust sites where the grace and beauty of butterflies during their brief but colourful lives can be enjoyed by everyone.'

 

NORTHERN IRELAND

Murlough Nature Reserve in County Down (028 4375 1467) In the golden sand dunes of this beautiful stretch of the Northern Ireland coast, Marsh Fritillary and Wood White butterflies can be seen in June; the Dark Green Fritillary butterfly from July to mid-August and the feisty Small Copper throughout July, August and September.

WALES

Welshmoor Common on the Gower Peninsula in south Wales (01792 390636) A great place for Marsh Fritillary and in June, the rare day-flying Narrow-bordered Bee Hawk moth.

NORTHWEST 

Langdale Pikes in Cumbria (015394 37663) Finding the elusive Mountain Ringlet high on the fells in late June or early July is the ultimate butterfly challenge.  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.
Arnside Knott on the Cumbria/Lancashire border (01524 702815)
One of only two places in England to see the Scotch Argus butterfly which is dusky black with red border spots, and flies during the end of July and beginning of August. In July it is also a top site for the rare and declining High Brown Fritillary butterfly that is big, bold and fast flying.   In May, Pearl-bordered Fritillary butterflies abound, followed in June by Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary and Northern Brown Argus.

EAST ANGLIA 

Horsey in the Norfolk Broads (01284 747500) If you're walking along the footpaths here in June, you may catch a glimpse of the rare giant Swallowtail over the reed beds along the edge of the mere. Orange Tip, Green-veined White and Wall Brown butterflies abound, and in July and August the nearby sand dunes are terrific for Grayling, Dark-green Fritillary, Small Copper and Common Blue.

SOUTHWEST 

Ashclyst Forest in Devon (01392 881345) Pearl-bordered Fritillary and Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary fly in the open spaces here in May and 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 (01929 450259)
The chalk ridge behind Swanage is one of the finest places for an array of butterflies. These include the Lulworth Skipper which flies in July and August; the Chalkhill Blue; Adonis Blue; Dark-green Fritillary and the migrant Clouded Yellow butterflies.
Barrington
Court Garden in South Somerset (01460 242614) The garden here is at its best for butterflies in the late summer. Rather appropriately, the organic walled kitchen garden is 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 butterflies get intoxicated on fallen fruit in the orchards.  There have even been sightings of the extremely rare Long-tailed Blue.
Calstone Combes and Cherhill Downs on the North Wiltshire chalk (01672 539167)
This is one of the Trust's secret butterfly hot spots where Marsh Fritillary and Green Hairstreak can be seen in early June, Dark-green Fritillary and Chalkhill Blue in July, and abundant Adonis Blue butterflies can be seen in late summer.
Coleton
Fishacre Garden in Devon (01803 752466; website) 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 butterflies abound.  This garden is excellent for butterflies in August and September and alongside the common butterflies that are everywhere, there is also the migrant Clouded Yellow, Red Admiral and Painted Lady; the Common Blue and Marbled White who breed in the grassland and the Wall Brown butterfly who patrols the banks. Rare vagrant butterflies such as the Monarch can also appear here.
Collard Hill in mid Somerset (01934 844518)
The only place in Britain where people are freely able to see the rare, reintroduced Large Blue butterfly.  Marbled White and Brown Argus also occur, and in late summer the elusive Brown Hairstreak can also be seen.
Heddon Valley in Devon (01598 763306)
It's the Fritillaries that shine in this wooded valley in July and August, with a mixture of numerous High Brown, the Dark Green and the Silver-Washed fritillaries.
Rodborough Common in Gloucestershire (01452 814213)
In May this is one of the best places for the rapidly declining Duke of Burgundy butterfly, and watch out for the iridescent azure beauty of the Adonis Blue in August which is back in the Cotswolds after 40 years' absence. Dark Green Fritillaries, Brown Argus, Small Blues and Chalkhill Blues can also be spotted. 

SOUTHEAST

Afton, Compton and Brook Downs on the Isle of Wight (01983 741020) Here, for a few fleeting weeks in August you can spot the sky blue and electric azure of the Chalkhill and Adonis Blues. Clouded Yellows are usually frequent in late summer. There is also an Adonis Blue brood in June and also lots of Small Blue.
Bookham Common in Surrey (01372 220640)
In mid-July Bookham plays host to the UK's greatest butterfly, the regal Purple Emperor. 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.
Cissbury Ring on the South Downs in West Sussex (01243 814554) Cissbury Ring's downland is home to four showstoppers in July and August: the Chalkhill Blue, Adonis Blue, Dark Green Fritillary and the Marbled White.
Compton Chine on the Isle of Wight coast (01983 741020)
In June, this is the best place for the Isle of Wight's special butterfly, the rare Glanville Fritillary, as well as the Wall Brown and Common Blue.
Denbies Hillside on the North Downs in Surrey (01372 220460)
In July and August, this is the place to see the dazzling Adonis and Chalkhill Blues, that are so dense in numbers at this time of year you have to watch each step.  Grizzled and Dingy Skipper butterflies fly in early summer, and there are Silver-spotted Skippers in August.
Ibsley Common in the New Forest (01794 340757)
The Forest was the home of Victorian butterfly collecting and these heaths on the Forest's western fringes are superb for the tiny Silver-studded Blue in July, and the Grayling and Small Copper during August. 
Watlington Hill in the south Chilterns, Oxfordshire (01494 755573)
For years this has been one of the best places for seeing Silver-spotted Skippers speeding low over the short grass in August. But also for watching the soaring Red Kites, as well as Chalkhill Blue, Brown Argus and Marbled White.

Find more information on the best National Trust butterfly sites and how to get there at www.nationaltrust.org.uk/butterflies or call 0870 458 4000. This includes details of the best spots to catch a glimpse of these beautiful butterflies.

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