Butterflies at Belton

Peacock butterfly (Inachis io) feeding on buddleia bush

As the sun finds Belton and the park and gardens burst with fresh green growth, it’s time to start looking out for our fluttering friends emerging after the long, hard winter. Ideal days for butterfly spotting are those that are warm and still - preferably with at least 60% sunshine; the perfect excuse to be a ‘fair-weather’ spotter!

There are 59 different species of butterfly in the UK, a small number compared to the 2,500 or so different species of moth that can be found here. Each species relies on a small range of food and habitat plants for its survival. This makes them an important indicator of habitat and environment health, and, as species move northwards through the UK, an excellent illustrator of the changing climate.

A small tortoiseshell butterfly
A Small Tortoiseshell on a thistle
A small tortoiseshell butterfly

Early butterflies to Belton park include peacock, small tortoiseshell, orange tip and the red admiral. Peacock butterflies are identifiable by the ‘peacock eye’ in the upper corner of each wing. Brimstones have a striking greeny-yellow colouring, and orange tip butterflies are one of the earliest emerging UK butterflies; though only the males have the orange tips to the wings. A wider variety emerge as the weather improves, with large and small whites, meadow browns, small heaths and ringlets all regularly recorded here.

There are butterflies for almost every conceivable type of habitat, but in many areas, you’ll find that they love edges – woodland rides, field margins, hedgerows – anywhere where there’s a range of different structures and heights to the habitat. Lookout for small tortoiseshells near our mature parkland trees, the adults hibernate in woody hollows and thrive on the nettles that spring up around their bases during the spring and summer months.

A female speckled wood
A female speckled wood, Pararge aegeria
A female speckled wood

In Old Wood, along the avenues and up in the Bellmount Plantations, keep an eye out for speckled woods, which prefer the shade of the canopy. They exhibit marked regional variation in colour, from dark brown with white spots at its northern limits to dark brown with orange spots in the south, this is known as a ‘cline’.

White letter hairstreak butterfly
White Letter Hairstreak butterfly, Satyrium w-album, nectaring on bramble flower, showing underwing
White letter hairstreak butterfly

Elsewhere on the estate we’re hoping that a small, secluded copse of suckering wych elm may support a colony of white letter hairstreak, a butterfly that feeds exclusively on elm, and suffered considerably after the Dutch elm disease of the ‘70s and ‘80s. With the introduction of a conservation grazing scheme on the fields below Bellmount, Belton’s ranger team hope to improve the quality and quantity of wildflowers and flowering grasses in the meadows, thus improving the quality of habitat for a whole host of different butterfly species there too.