of the forest
Male Purple Emperor basking at the top of an Oak tree
Introducing the butterflies of Rockingham Forest
by Doug Goddard
Of the 59 species of butterfly that can be found in Britain, the county of Northamptonshire currently has 38 of them. They include resident ones, the reintroduced Chequered Skipper, regular immigrants, vagrant Chalkhill Blue and one very rare visitor, the Camberwell Beauty. Not included in this list are the Large Tortoiseshell and Long-tailed Blue, both of which made even rarer appearances in 2022.
Rockingham Forest has a range of good woodland, old quarry sites which have been allowed to revert to nature, several nature reserves, and numerous byways. All of the county’s species can be found within the forest's boundaries.
Butterfly family groups
The 38 species of butterfly are all described and pictured on these webpages. All the pictures are by Doug Goddard unless shown otherwise.
Click on one of these four groups to find them.
Find out more
Further information on individual species can be found by visiting Butterfly Conservation's A-Z of Butterflies
Latest news on Northamptonshire sightings is on the website of the Beds and Northants branch of Butterfly Conservation There you will also find details of how to send records to the county recorder.
About Doug Goddard
Doug is a retired Deputy Headteacher who has followed the fortunes of Northamptonshire butterflies for over forty years. From 1986 to 2015 he was county recorder for Beds and Northants Butterfly Conservation and the county Wildllife Trust. Author of Butterflies of Northamptonshire in 2012 with Andy Wyldes, he was presented with an Outstanding Volunteer Award by Butterfly Conservation in the same year, he served as Branch Chair from 2017 to 2022 and is on the Steering Committee for the initiative to re-introduce the Chequered Skipper into Rockingham Forest.
Yes, that is a Purple Emperor on his shoulder!
SKIPPERS - Hesperiidae
On the wing from late April to the end of May, the Dingy Skipper and Grizzled Skipper are both declining nationally but have benefitted from positive intervention from the Back from the Brink Project and as part of the subsequent Chequered Skippers – Taking Flight initiative. Both are usually found together in habitat where there is bare earth, low-growing nectar plants and seedheads on which they rest in dull weather. The Dingy lays eggs on bird’s-foot trefoil and the Grizzled on wild strawberry, creeping cinquefoil, and agrimony. Good places where they can be seen are along the rides in Fineshade Wood, in old quarry sites at Old Sulehay and Ring Haw and at Fermyn Woods Country Park.
Dingy Skipper on fresh Hawthorn leaves
Dingy Skipper resting on bare soil
Dingy with wings closed on a teasel head
A basking Grizzled Skipper
The underwing of a Grizzled Skipper
Grizzled Skipper on fresh vegetation
Chequered Skippers appear in mid-May in Fineshade Wood. This link will take you to the Butterfly Conservation website where you can read about the re-introduction and the current project Chequered Skippers – Taking Flight.
The small distinctive Chequered Skipper
Chequered Skipper underwing
In early June, look for the Large Skipper, the first of the golden skippers to emerge. It is widespread in grassy areas and woodland rides and can be seen into September. Identification features are the paler spots on the wings and curved antennae.
A male Large Skipper
Female Large Skipper - more obvious spots
From late June to August, Large Skippers are joined by the Small and Essex Skippers, which can be found in most grassy habitats in the Forest. These are impossible to tell apart on the wing but, when settled, a look at the undersides of their antennae separates them - orange/brown on the Small Skipper and black on the Essex. Scent brands on the males are curved on the Small and a short line on the Essex.
Small Skippers - undersides of antennae orange, make scent mark curved
Essex Skipper -undersides of antennae black, male scent mark a short line.
WHITES AND YELLOWS - Pieridae
The Large, Small and Green-veined Whites are among the first species to emerge in the spring and may be seen widely throughout the year into October in a range of habitats where they frequently visit flowers.
The Green-veined White is the most common in woodland.
Upperwing of a Green-veined White
Green veins on the underwing
The Large and Small Whites vary greatly in abundance from year to year as they are dependent on immigration from the continent to swell their numbers.
The life cycle of the Large White is described here.
Female Large White
A male Large White
These three species are difficult to tell apart on the wing, but a closer look when they are settled will show the differences in the black wing margins and underside markings.
A Small White
A Small White showing the underwing
The Orange-tip is a widespread butterfly everywhere during the spring from early April into May. The distinctive orange tips to the male’s wings make it easy to identify as does the mottled underside when at rest. The female lacks the orange tips to her wings but has a slower flight than the other common Whites. Its life cycle of the is described here.
A male Orange-tip
An Orange-tip female. Just one spot on the wing
Distinctive underwing of Orange Tips
The Wood White is a rare and threatened species in Britain, but Northamptonshire is one of its strongholds with stable colonies in Salcey Forest, Yardley Chase and the woods around Silverstone. In Rockingham Forest, it is only found in the private Geddington Chase where a colony was found by Susannah O’Riordan in 2018 while surveying for the Back from the Brink Project. Compared with the other whites it is smaller with a different wing profile and more delicate flights. On the wing from early May until mid-July, climate change has led to a second brood emerging in early August, though numbers vary according to the summer. Vagrant Wood Whites have been seen in other parts of the Forest and provide hope that it will expand its range.
The distinctively shaped Wood White
The Clouded Yellow migrates to our shores annually, heading for areas where its larval foodplants, bird’s-foot trefoil, clover and lucerne grow in profusion, but in most years numbers are small. It is usually occurs in Northamptonshire in late summer and sometimes breeds. Examples include breeding in the National Trust meadows of Lyveden New Bield in 2019 and in a series of clover fields around Lower Benefield in 2022, when record numbers were recorded. Here the pale form of the female, helice, was also seen and is well worth looking out for. In flight the Clouded Yellow is a much richer yellow with black edges to the wings in comparison with the lighter yellow of the common resident Brimstone.
Male Clouded Yellow
Clouded Yellow female
Pale, helice form near Benefield in 2022
The Brimstone can be seen widely as it emerges from over-wintering in clumps of ivy in the spring and again in the autumn when it feeds on the many flowers available. The female is a whitish green in colour.
A male Brimstone
A lighter-coloured female Brimstone laying eggs
There is another "white" in Rockingham Forest- the Marbled White. Despite its English name this is actually one of the browns and part of a different family - the Nymphalidae - you can find it here.