Rutland Butterfly Atlas

Silver-washed Fritillary, Bedford Purlieus

The longest day and soaring temperatures, combined with a quiet period for birds, have brought opportunities to look at other wildlife.

Visits to the ancient woodland at Bedford Purlieus have been rewarded with sightings of Fly Orchid, Black and White-letter Hairstreaks (see Twitter feed for images), and Silver-washed Fritillary. In Rutland, I have seen Dark Green Fritillary at one new site (Clipsham Park Wood) but as yet have not found any Purple Emperors this year.

It has been a productive period for orchids: a Lizard Orchid in Leicestershire has been followed by numerous Bee Orchids, including belgarum and chlorantha varieties and so-called ‘flavescens’.

An apparently new colony of Marbled Whites in Leicestershire provides a reminder of how little we know even about relatively conspicuous local wildlife.

Painted Lady, Rutland

Even when worn, Green Hairstreaks are exquisite

Yesterday and today I have had the opportunity to catch up with some of Rutland’s spring butterflies and other wildlife. Scarcer species have included Dingy Skippers at Ketton, Grizzled Skippers at Ketton and Essendine, and Green Hairstreak at Essendine. Also at Essendine I saw the scarce Four-spotted moth (below).

Bee Orchids are just coming into flower, whilst many of our breeding birds are feeding young. Grey Partridges have become hard to find in Rutland, so I was pleased to see one at Pickworth today.

Four-spotted, Essendine

RBA cover 

There are still a few copies left of the Rutland Butterfly Atlas – so if you know anyone young or old with an interest it might make a nice stocking-filler.

Once they have gone the project will have broken even. If you have difficulty finding a copy at the AWBC, Rutland Museum or Walkers, please email

Meadow Brown and Marbled White, Rutland

Yesterday I visited Bloody Oaks Quarry, which as usual proved a haven for butterflies including double figures of Silver-washed Fritillary. Amongst others, I also saw Brown Argus and Small Heath.

This Black-striped Longhorn Beetle was the second I have seen at this site – the other was in 2015.

Other notable butterflies seen locally over the past week have included White-letter Hairstreak and Holly Blue.

I’m unsure about the local status of Giant Woodwasp – this one in Oakham – can anyone advise? Note its size in relation to the brick!

Black-striped Longhorn, Bloody Oaks

Giant Woodwasp, Oakham

Updated distribution map including 2017 Rutland records 

Quite a lot has been written about the Purple Emperor, including most notably ‘Notes & Views of the Purple Emperor’ by Heslop, Hyde & Stockley (1964). A thorough grounding in the literature may well be helpful; what follows is based on my own experience.

In the East Midlands we are fortunate to have the famous Fermyn Woods site where Purple Emperors are easy to see, yet experience gained there may be slightly misleading. When I have seen them elsewhere, be it abroad in France or at home in Rutland, they have seldom come down to tracks but rather spend most of their time around the canopy. Once you have found the right habitat patience may be required – it is not unusual to wait an hour or more between sightings. Sightings at Fermyn are, however, a useful indication that they are likely to be on the wing in Rutland.

In Rutland the best habitat – a combination of oak and most importantly sallow – is found in the north-east, but other woods (e.g. Burley, Prior’s Coppice) have suitable areas so further spread is possible. 2017 is certainly a good year for Purple Emperor, so the increase in Rutland sites is likely to be genuine as well as a reflection of more skilled searching.

I have found that the most productive period is between mid-morning and early afternoon, on warm days (high teens or low twenties) with at least intermittent sunshine. It is important to concentrate the search around areas of sallow, where males fly quite regularly. They are quick on the wing, and there may be lengthy periods between sightings. It is not uncommon to see them only in flight, or settled high in the canopy of oak or ash close to sallows, so binoculars may be required for a good view. ‘Grounded’ males, and females, are seen much less frequently.

We now know that Purple Emperors are present in Addah, Clipsham Park, Pickworth Great and Stretton Woods. It does seem that they are increasing, but they may have been present at low density for some time without being recorded. The challenge is to track their spread as best we can.

A typical view of Purple Emperor, Rutland 

Clipsham Park Wood, Rutland

Between family visits I have managed to fit in some butterfly recording, especially of Purple Emperor (on which more will follow).

This year’s warm, dry June has resulted in flight periods for some species moving forward by two weeks or more. Sightings in new tetrads have been recorded for Silver-washed Fritillary, Marbled White and Small Heath as well as Purple Emperor. It seems to be a good year for Purple Hairstreak.

Heavy thunderstorms during the week do not seem to have had as much impact on local butterflies as I feared. For some species, including Purple Emperor, the main flight period this year may end soon so make the most of it!

Purple Hairstreak, Rutland

Rutland Butterfly Atlas

Rutland Butterfly Atlas

The Rutland Butterfly Atlas is now printing and should be available at the end of February or beginning of March. It will be available from the AWBC/Egleton Reserve, Rutland Museum, and Walkers Bookshop, Oakham and costs just £12.

The Atlas has 92 pages, and includes distribution maps and discussion for all 35 regularly recorded butterflies, over 90 colour photographs taken in Rutland, detailed information about scarce migrants and former Rutland butterflies, and a section on key sites as well as tips on where to find each species.

In his foreword, Adrian Russell describes it as ‘an invaluable insight into Rutland’s butterflies’.