Headley Heath butterfly walk

Headley Heath, Headley Common Road, Headley, Surrey

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Emperor dragonfly on the water on a summer's day  © National Trust / Harry McMahon

Emperor dragonfly on the water on a summer's day

White admiral butterfly on bramble © Matthew Oates (NT)

White admiral butterfly on bramble

Male purple emperor butterflies on horse dung © National Trust/ Matthew Oates

Male purple emperor butterflies on horse dung

View of Headley Heath, near Box Hill, Surrey © John Miller

View of Headley Heath, near Box Hill, Surrey

Grizzled skipper butterfly © Matthew Oates (NT)

Grizzled skipper butterfly

Route overview

A ramble through woodland and heathland on acidic soils, which leads you out onto chalk downland turf before returning onto heathland and back into woodland.  The butterflies are at their best from 24 June through to early August. The woodland supports good populations of white admiral, purple emperor and purple hairstreak, and brimstone in spring and the heathland is very good for small copper and gatekeeper, though silver-studded blue and grayling (two heathland stallwarts) are absent. The downland is good for silver-spotted skipper, brown argus and green hairstreak. All told, over 25 species occur here annually. 

Route details

See this step-by-step route marked on a map

Route of the Headley Heath butterfly walk in Surrey
  • Directions
  • Route
  • Bus stop
  • Parking
  • Toilet
  • Viewpoint

Start: Brimmer car park opposite Headley Grove Farm, grid ref: TQ206533

  1. In Brimmer car park, with your back to the road, take the footpath that leads from the gate in the extreme right hand corner of the car park, along a broad path through birch woodland. Take the second left turning, which quickly appears at a cross rides where the trees thin. Follow this track along, looking at dragonflies on two small ponds on your right. Then take the fourth turn on your right past the second pond. You'll need to count! The first is soon after the second pond and the fourth soon after the third.

    Show/HideButterflies and dragonflies

    A good area for brimstones in spring, and speckled wood all summer. A few white admirals and, if you're lucky, holly blue, comma or purple hairstreak. The rare starfruit and great crested newts sometimes appear in the ponds, which are good for many heathland dragonflies and damselflies.

    Emperor dragonfly on the water on a summer's day  © National Trust / Harry McMahon
  2. This section is entirely in woodland. After turning fourth right, follow the track down, across a bridleway and down and out of a hollow. Carry on, as the path veers to the right, leading to and over a very muddy patch. Continue, and stop when the path reaches a circular glade fringed by tall oaks.

    Show/HideButterflies and other insects

    This shady stretch is very good for white admirals (pictured) during late June and most of July. Brimstone and speckled wood also occur. On a hot midsummer day you may see butterflies and other insects, such as large horseflies, drinking from saturated mud.

    White admiral butterfly on bramble © Matthew Oates (NT)
  3. On bright afternoons during late June and July, walk across this glade (at the junction of six tracks) and turn round to look up at the two tall oaks at the end of the muddy path you've just walked. The dense-leaved oak on the left is a purple emperor 'master tree', where every afternoon (from 12.30pm until early evening) the males gather and chase each other and other winged creatures about, whilst waiting for females in need of their attentions.

    Show/HidePurple emperor

    It's worth stopping and picnicking at the glade, as the emperors are only intermittently active - though they put on a spectacular show. The oaks are also good for purple hairstreaks, though these small grey butterflies are most active in the evening. You may see emperors again at the very end of the walk.

    Male purple emperor butterflies on horse dung © National Trust/ Matthew Oates
  4. Take the second exit from the right at the end of this circular glade, and follow this vehicle track right down. It opens up onto heathland, with gorse patches, and becomes a broad, short grassy ride. Carry on past a cattle trough and a big oak on the summit of a hill. Carry on - half way down the slope the geology suddenly changes from acidic sands to chalk, and the vegetation changes to chalk grassland and scrub. Go down the steps to the valley bottom.

    Show/HideButterflies and birds

    The heathland is a good area for small copper butterflies, and if you're lucky Dartford warbler and wood lark. Brown Argus and silver-spotted skippers fly over the downland turf.

    View of Headley Heath, near Box Hill, Surrey © John Miller
  5. In the combe bottom, bear right on to the track. Then, at the base of a set of steps on your left, take the minor path that runs gently uphill and above the broad chalky vehicle track. This minor path meanders upslope, before rejoining the chalky track before the hill summit.

    Show/HideButterflies

    A superb slope for grizzled skipper and green hairstreak in spring, silver-spotted skipper in August, brown argus in May and August, and small copper in late summer and autumn. A number of rare insects breed here or visit the flowers for nectar.

    Grizzled skipper butterfly © Matthew Oates (NT)
  6. The chalky track leads up to a cross rides of six tracks at the summit, where the geology changes back to acidic sand. At this junction, take the second path from the right, past a bench. This runs for a long way on level ground through scrubby heath and woodland, past a pond perched up on your left (Aspend Pond). Follow this track, past various intersections with very minor paths, all the way along to a major T-junction.

    Show/HideButterflies, bees and tadpoles

    A long, general interest section, with small numbers of heathland and woodland butterflies. The open heathland supports many species of solitary bee and wasp, which nest in the sandy soil. The pond was made in 1973 and is good for tadpoles in spring.

  7. At the T-junction, bear left and walk back along part of your way out, to the two ponds. But opposite the first pond, turn right down a narrow path with sallow bushes and brambles that soon leads to the car park.

    Show/HideWhite admirals and purple emperor

    You may see white admirals feeding on the bramble patches. In the car park, with your back to the road, look at the tall oaks over the middle gate (to the left of your entry route gate). This is another purple emperor 'master tree' (though with only one or two males present), and is also good for purple hairstreak.

End: Brimmer car park opposite Headley Grove Farm, grid ref: TQ206533

  • Trail: Walking
  • Grade: Easy
  • Distance: 2 miles (3.2km)
  • Time: 4 hours
  • OS Map: OS Explorer 146
  • Terrain:

    Circular walk across mainly flat or gently undulating land, with a moderately steep descent and a moderately steep ascent. Many of the paths are muddy, even locally boggy after rain. Myriad paths, especially through the woods, so you'll need to follow directions carefully. Dogs welcome, but please keep them under control around grazing livestock.

  • How to get here:

    By bike: See directions by car, below

    By foot: From North Downs Way at Box Hill, follow footpaths to Headley Heath (5 hour circular walk from Box Hill), see OS map Explorer 146

    By train: Box Hill and Westhumble station, 3 miles (4.8km)

    By bus: Surrey Connect 516, Dorking to Leatherhead and Epsom, alight Headley. See Surrey County Council's travel website for further information

    By car: Exit M25 at J9 (Leatherhead) and take A24 south (Leatherhead bypass road) towards Dorking. Then B2033 (Headley Common Road) to Headley Village

     


     

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