Rare butterflies spotted on Exmoor

One of the rarest species of butterfly in the UK has been spotted at a new location in Exmoor National Park. Heath Fritillary butterflies have been seen on Exmoor National Park Authority (ENPA) land at Ashton Cleave about 8km west of Hawkcombe Woods.


ENPA have been engaged in a long-term project to restore oak coppice in Hawkcombe Wood National Nature Reserve near Porlock to help the recovery of this Nationally rare butterfly, also traditionally known as the “woodmans follower" because of its habit of occupying recently coppiced areas. It has been breeding successfully in Hawkcombe for a few years. The first butterfly this year was spotted by a holiday maker in the area, they sent their findings to Butterly Conservation who work in partnership with ENPA.

Senior Woodland Officer for ENPA Graeme McVittie said: “Working with Butterfly Conservation has led to some exciting work in our woodlands that will increase biodiversity and benefit rare species like the Heath Fritillary. Now is peak flight time for the Heath Fritillary, and it’s a sign that the mass emergence and dispersal of these butterflies last year resulted in a successful breeding population beyond their established core in Hawkcombe. This bodes well for potential colonisation of other Exmoor National Park habitat historically occupied by this type of butterfly”.

The sightings follow a report of the species last year at Heddon Valley (midway between Lynton and Combe Martin), which was probably the first seen in North Devon for at least a couple of decades.

Exmoor National Park Authority is encouraging people to get involved with the ‘Big Butterfly count’ beginning on Friday 12 July.

You can call in to any of the National Park centres in Dulverton, Dunster and Lynmouth to pick up a FREE butterfly identification guide and become a citizen scientist, helping to record rare and interesting species of wildlife like the Heath Fritillary.

Find out more on the Big Butterfly Count