We have an abundance of common butterflies along the River Wey towpath in the heart of Surrey.
First to be seen, from late February onwards, is the yellow brimstone, foraging along the hedgerows at the back of the towpath. Although less common along the navigations than it used to be, the orange tip soon joins the brimstones fluttering along the waterway. Wherever you see the cuckoo flower along the towpath, you are likely to see an orangetTip.
From April, that lovely flash of blue you can see, hardly ever resting, is probably the common blue, moving quickly from one flower to the next and only displaying its beautiful blue wings open in the evening or early morning. This is a common butterfly along the waterway, but it can be hard to recognise it at rest, as the back of the wings are brown.
Commas and colours
Although the comma is also an early butterfly, we don't see many of them until May or June and then we see lots. They particularly love the buddleias along the towpath. At the same sort of time we see lots of painted ladies. This species feeds on flowers, so there is lots of food available for them along the waterway. At Dapdune Wharf in particular, we get an abundance of gatekeepers in the summer, often perched on the flowers and fruit of brambles along with red admirals, speckled woods and peacocks. The peacocks are particularly partial to a bit of hemp agrimony and we have lots of that growing along the navigation.
Endangered habitat leads to endangered species
Butterfly numbers are declining in general - mainly due to loss of habitat. Their needs vary - peacocks need large patches of nettles and a good supply of nectar. This is easy habitat to find in Britain and this is why we have lots of peacocks all over the country. The blues need rough grassland and colonies of ants, which are harder to find, and so their numbers are declining.
Most British butterflies are resident but some of our very common species, such as red admirals and painted ladies overwinter in Europe. They cross the channel in spring and then return to the continent in autumn. Click here for fascinating facts about butterflies.