Spotter's Guide - Spring Butterflies

Use our handy spotter's guide to identify these spring butterflies which can be found in the Forest.

After hibernating in houses, hollow trees, or woodpiles, Peacocks are the first of the overwintering butterflies to emerge. Likely to be found in the woodland rides in the Forest from as early as March, their distinctive large peacock eye spots dominating all four wings make them easy to identify. The next brood will emerge in July and the progeny of these will then overwinter.
A peacock butterfly resting on some knapweed
Brimstone is one of the first species of butterfly to be seen in the springtime. Look out for its distinctive leaf-shaped wings and pale-yellow/green colour wherever you see thistles, knapweed and teasel in the Forest – often in woodland rides.
Side shot of a Brimstone butterfly resting on a Delphina flower
The comma’s wings have jagged edges and are bright orange in colour which is certainly eye-catching. It’s one of the first butterflies to spot in spring, but how early you can spy one depends on the temperature. First seen having emerged from hibernation in the leaf litter in woodland glades and hedges, look out for it specifically on flowering nettles.
Close up of a comma butterfly resting on some purple flowers
Having emerged on warm days in March from their hibernation sites, small tortoiseshell butterflies are to be found feeding on dandelions and catkins on footpaths through fields and by hedges. With its striking patterns, it is one of the most well-known butterflies in the UK.
small tortoiseshell butterfly resting on a blue flower
Orange tip butterflies hatch from the pupae stage in early/mid-April onwards and can be spotted patrolling their territories along country lanes and down woodland tracks from early July. Despite their name, only the male has orange-tipped wings while the female has grey/black tips.
Close up of an orange tip butterfly
Ringlet butterflies enjoy the tall wet grass on woodland rides, as well as near streams and ponds. Unlike many butterflies the ringlet can be seen flying even in dull weather conditions. Their dark brown wings, males almost black, have a number of eyespots which have white centres surrounded by black and yellow rings.
Side view of a ringlet butterfly resting on some seed pods
Having survived the winter as a pupa hanging from a fence, a wall, or tree trunk, speckled wood butterflies are to be found in the field margins and along woodland rides in the dappled light. They are often seen spiralling upwards in twos or more in a spot of light striking through the Forest canopy.
Close up of the open wings of a speckled wood butterfly
Easily missed if you only watch at eyelevel, the purple hairstreak mainly lives high up in the canopy of oak trees. In dry spells during mid-summer, they come down to the ground to take water from the edge of the muddy puddles. Look out for their black wings which turn purple when they catch the light.
The open wings of the purple hairstreak butterfly resting on a leaf

Creating habitats for butterflies

The importance of managing our woodlands by creating a diverse age structure, through coppicing, thinning out standards, cutting the rides and creating scalloped glades, all help to provide a range of woodland habitats where butterflies and other insects can flourish. The newer woodlands in the Forest are designed with large interconnected woodland rides, perfect for butterflies to explore and expand their populations.

Wherever you are in the Forest, one plant butterflies love is bramble. So, if you find some on your daily walk, wait and see which colourful visitors come and join you. Find out about visiting the Forest.