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More butterflies
of the forest

White-letter Hairstreak in Fineshade Wood

Hairstreaks and Blues

by Doug Goddard


Four of Britain’s five Hairstreak butterfly species are to be found in Rockingham Forest. The first to appear in late April into May is the Green Hairstreak. Often found alongside Dingy and Grizzled Skippers, it prefers the presence of some scrub where the males hold territory. Favourite sites are Fermyn Woods Country Park and nature reserves at Old Sulehay, Ring Haw and Collyweston Deeps.

The Black Hairstreak is confined to the East Midlands and within the Forest Glapthorn Cow Pastures holds one of the best colonies in the country. Flying in June, it is an elusive species with a short time on the wing among Blackthorn thickets, such as at Fermyn Woods Country Park, and along woodland rides in the Fermyn Wood complex and Fineshade Wood.

As the season moves into July and August, the Purple Hairstreak can be found in all of the Forest’s woodlands flying round the oak canopy, only occasionally descending to ground level. It is best looked for in the early evening.


Green Hairstreak

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Black Hairstreak

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Purple Hairstreak - a male


A female Purple Hairstreak


Underside of Purple Hairstreak

The White-letter Hairstreak is much rarer and only occurs where Elms are present for breeding. It is recorded annually in Fineshade and Fermyn woods and on a stand of hedgerow Elms at Lyveden New Bield. It can be seen taking nectar from bramble blossom, Wild Privet, thistles, and Hemp Agrimony. The life cycle of this species is described here.

The first of the blues to appear in the year is the Holly Blue which is on the wing from early April to the end of May and again from late July to September. It is mainly found in parks and gardens where holly and ivy grow but can appear almost anywhere in hedgerows and woodland where it will also lay its eggs on Dogwood. When at rest its underside is blue with black markings in comparison with the mosaic of markings on the Common Blue.


White-letter Hairstreak

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Holly Blue - a male


A female Holly Blue


Underwing of Holly Blue

The Common Blue is widespread in a range of habitats within the Forest throughout the summer from May onwards.  The female has both blue and brown forms.

The brown form of the Common Blue can be confused with the Brown Argus but  the two species can be separated by comparing their underside.

On the Brown Argus there are two spots towards the apex of the wing in the form of a figure-of-eight. This species was re-discovered on the disused airfield at Wakerley in 1994 after a long absence and is now found throughout the Forest where cranesbills grow. It was able to change its larval foodplant from Rock Rose as it spread from its traditional downland habitat. Rock Rose is present at Collyweston Deeps where it can be found in the greatest numbers.


A male Common Blue


This female is the blue form


The female Common Blue (brown form)

Underside of  Common Blue


Brown Argus

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The all-important figure-of-8 spots

The Deeps is also a good site for the Small Copper, a beautiful butterfly which occurs in small numbers from early May through the summer on waste ground in a range of habitats. In warm years it can be plentiful in September and October as numbers build in successive broods.


Small Copper


Small Copper

In 2017 a previously unknown colony of Chalkhill Blue butterflies was discovered during a plant survey of the disused airfield next to Wakerley Wood. This population was estimated at a thriving three hundred adults. Sadly, the site had already been granted planning permission to be turned into a working quarry and shortly afterwards succumbed to the plough. 


Group of Chalkhill Blues at Wakerley

There is a strong colony at Barnack Hills and Holes just outside the county and occasionally males will wander long distances into the Forest, as in Fineshade on 11th August 2015. Sightings at Collyweston Deeps from 2015 -17 may have emanated from here or possibly the then unknown colony at Wakerley.


Female Chalkhill Blue at Fineshade

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