Top tips for butterfly spotting

'Anyone can have a go at butterflying spotting, whether it is in your garden, your local park or on one of our gorgeous nature reserves. One of my favourite places is Watlington Hill, I can spend hours there but it is always worth the wait.'

Our nature expert, Matthew Oates, has over 50 years of butterfly spotting experience under his belt so we’ve asked him to share some top tips to help you on your way to spotting these beautiful insects.

You can also watch Matthew's butterfly diaries which explore his early love of butterflies and career as a nature conservationist as well as the decline and recovery of the silver-spotted skipper on Watlington Hill.

    Patience is everything

    Adonis blue butterfly

    If you relax and take your time, butterflies will appear when they’re good and ready, so don’t give up too soon. Fishermen make good butterfly spotters, as they’re used to waiting around for a catch.

    One of the best times to go butterfly spotting is when you’re on your holiday, so you’ve got the time to sit and enjoy the anticipation.

    Get a butterfly spotting guide

    A Peacock Butterfly rests its wings

    There are over 60 types of butterflies in the UK so a spotting guide can help you identify them by their colour, pattern and where they are.

    You and your family could create a butterfly checklist and see how many you can spot.

    Use close-focussing binoculars

    Female large blue butterfly laying her egg on host plant thyme at Collard Hill, Somerset

    Though butterflies can be enjoyed without any special equipment, a good pair of binoculars can help you see their incredible colour and pattern.

    Don’t send yourself cross-eyed trying to use binoculars that don’t have a close-focus – there are so many good ones in the market now that you’ll be spoilt for choice.

    Think about your shadow

    Red Admiral lands on asters in the Long Border

    Be careful about casting shadows over settled butterflies, it can frighten them.

    Try to position yourself so your shadow isn’t going to get in the way and take into account what time of day it is: you’ll have a smaller shadow in the middle of the day.

    Avoid jerky movements

    The silver spotted skipper butterfly

    Try to avoid startling these delicate creatures with sudden, jerky movements. Even pointing at them can spook them.

    If you do spook a butterfly, just stand quietly and watch until it settles down, then try to approach it again. It will often return to the same plant.

    Keep it simple

    Comma butterfly feeding on scabious flowers

    It takes many years to master butterfly identification, so start with the easy ones until your confidence has built up.

    Common butterflies are just as beautiful and much easier for children to spot.

    Think about plants


    If you’re hoping to spot butterflies in your own garden, the type of plants you grow is very important.

    The best garden plants are buddleia (davidii ‘Dartmoor’ and weyerana), Verbena bonariensis, marjoram and good old-fashioned michaelmas daises.

    Relax on a walk

    Butterfly perching on flower

    Butterfly spotting doesn’t need to be painstaking. Simply take yourself off on a walk and keep your eyes peeled.

    Try one of our top butterfly walks where you’re sure to spot butterflies in the summer months.