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More butterflies
of the forest

Silver-washed Fritillary in Fineshade Wood

Browns, Fritillaries and Aristocrats


by Doug Goddard

Several species of Browns are very common throughout the Forest area. The Meadow Brown is found in a range of grassland habitats and woodland rides from early June to late August.


Meadow Brown - a male

Female with more extensive orange on the forewings

In July it is joined by the Ringlet which prefers damper locations. It is the most numerous butterfly in woodlands at that time, often flying in the dullest weather.

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A pair of Ringlets

The Gatekeeper is more often found in gardens, as well as in woodlands and the wider countryside, in July and August.


Male Gatekeeper


Female Gatekeeper

These species are single brooded, but the Speckled Wood has several broods from April onwards and is a common sight particularly in shadier woodland throughout the summer.


Speckled Wood

The Marbled White has shown a remarkable expansion of range in the last few decades. Flying from late June to early August, it can occur almost anywhere in grassy areas. When a colony becomes established, large numbers build up, as at Collyweston Deeps and Old Sulehay. In recent years it has colonised Fermyn Woods country Park and Fineshade Wood.


Marbled White

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Marbled White, male on the left, female on the right

The smallest of the browns is the Small Heath, which is more localised than the other species, breeding where the grass growth is much sparser.   Good places to see it, from mid-May to September, are Collyweston Deeps, Old Sulehay and Ring Haw, Fineshade Wood and around the meadows at Lyveden New Bield.


Small Heath

Among the nymphalids are the largest and most colourful of our British butterflies. On the first warm days of the year, the Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell, Comma, and Red Admiral will appear, having overwintered as adult butterflies. All are widespread species which can be seen into the autumn, the adults feeding on ripe blackberries and late ivy blossom.




Small Tortoiseshell

The Comma is the most often found in woodland, along with the Red Admiral, numbers of which are increased annually by immigrants from the continent though the extent of this varies from year to year. Most Red Admirals return in the autumn, but with climate change, more are now overwintering here. The life cycle of the two species are described here.


Comma showing the punctuation mark clearly 

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Comma with its wings closed showing the comma marking


Red Admiral

The Painted Lady’s immigration is less predictable. In some years, such as 2009 and 2019, it arrives early in the year and reaches large numbers as it breeds here, while in other seasons it is almost entirely absent. It always returns to the continent in the autumn as it cannot survive our winters.


Painted Lady

A very rare immigrant, the Camberwell Beauty, was recorded in 2006 when one was seen in Fermyn Wood and two were found feeding on windfall fruit in a Brigstock garden from 30th August to 1st September, where this one was photographed by Hilary Monk, head ranger at Fermyn Woods Country Park.  

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Camberwell Beauty

In late June and July, the Purple Emperor is on the wing. The Fermyn Woods complex holds one of the best colonies of the Purple Emperor in the country, attracting butterfly watchers from far and wide. In recent years, it has spread its range into most other woods in the Forest, notably Fineshade Wood since 2015. Males come down to feed on the ground during the first part of the flight period when they can be approached very closely.


The female Purple Emperor


Purple Emperor - the magnificent male

A group of Purple Emperors

The White Admiral is found in the same areas and at the same time as the Purple Emperor, particularly feeding on bramble blossom. Numbers fluctuate greatly from year to year. It lays its eggs on honeysuckle, which is often removed when forest rides are cleared and widened, while a cold spring brings a reduced emergence, as the larvae take longer to complete the life cycle, leading to more being eaten by predators.


White Admiral


White Admiral showing the underwing

Another effect of climate change has been an expansion of range of two fritillary species, bringing them back into Northamptonshire, particularly within Rockingham Forest. First seen again in 2006, the Silver-washed Fritillary now abounds in the Forest woodlands from late June to early September, particularly in Fineshade, Wakerley and Fermyn.


Silver-washed Fritillary  - a male

Female Silver-washed Fritillary 

A percentage of females are a darker, greenish colour instead of the usual orange. This form is called Valezina. Formerly only found in southern England, it now occurs frequently in the Rockingham Forest colonies.  


Underwing - the silver wash


Valezina form of the Silver-washed Fritillary

The Dark Green Fritillary was first recorded in Fineshade Wood in 2018. It prefers more open habitat than the Silver-washed and a very large colony has built at Old Sulehay and Ring Haw nature reserves. It is on the wing from mid-June and has a shorter flight period.


A Dark Green Fritillary

 Underwing of Dark Green Fritillary

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