Marsh and Small Pearl- bordered Fritillaries on Dartmoor

It was a sunny morning when I left Exeter yesterday to go to Dartmoor but as the afternoon progressed it clouded over and eventually broke into heavy rain. I was therefore quite lucky to find what I went to Dartmoor to see.

A Marsh Fritillary sunning itself as the sun broke through the clouds momentarily

In total I saw 6 Marsh Fritillaries in the rhos pastures at Challacombe

If you look carefully individual butterflies are all subtly different in their markings

Marsh Fritillaries are now a very rare species but do flourish in a few selected locations on Dartmoor (and elsewhere)

I also found a couple of Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries – another rare and declining species for which Dartmoor is another stronghold

Just before the heavy rain arrived I found this individual

Amazing details and colours in the wings

Here is a shot of a Pearl-bordered Fritillary I photographed a few years ago at Hembury Woods


A couple of speckled woods

There were several speckled wood butterflies in my garden yesterday. They were still chasing each other around in the autumn sunshine and then occasionally basking on the vegetation.



Reflecting on the year – I think it has been a terrible year for butterflies – I’ve hardly seen any small tortoiseshells, only a couple of red admirals and a handful of painted ladies.

Butterfly Conservation is blaming a cool spring and a slow start to the summer for the low numbers of small tortoiseshell – a species that has already plummeted 73% since the 1970s. To me, a decline of that order can’t solely be explained by poor weather ….

The gatekeepers have emerged

The first gatekeepers of the year have emerged in my garden. Gatekeepers are also known as hedge browns.

Gatekeeper 1
Attractive summer butterflies which can be identified by their bright orange brown colours and the black spot on the forewing which contains two white dots. The similar looking meadow brown is duller and only has one white spot in the black dot.

Gatekeeper 2The underside of the wings which again show the black spot with the two white dots.

This is a species of butterfly which is doing pretty well – it is also spreading northwards into Cumbria and Yorkshire – as a result of climate change it won’t be long before it gets to Scotland.

Marsh fritillaries on Dartmoor

Finding a marsh fritillary butterfly on Dartmoor has proven to be a very long and drawn out process. Over the past couple of years I have tried on six separate occasions on specific trips and numerous other speculative occasions. Today I was finally successful.

Marsh fritillary
I managed to see four different individuals in the Challacombe / Widecombe area but only managed to photograph this one individual. I think it is a female – what a stunning animal.

Marsh frit map 2000-16map
Marsh fritillaries have declined considerably over the past few decades – the red squares indicate extant colonies since 2000 whilst the yellow squares represent those that have been lost. Colonies are rarely large and often exist in an area of around a couple of hectares. (Map courtesy of the National Biodiversity Network).

Rhos Pasture 1
On Dartmoor they live largely in Rhos Pastures (see here). They are a matrix of wet meadows, bogs, heaths, woodland and scrub  on the lower enclosed lands of Dartmoor. Without the care and attention  of the Dartmoor farmers assisted by the agri-environment grant schemes these places would have been lost.


Rhos Pasture 2
The species rich grasslands remind me of the fen meadows of Wicken Fen where I used to work.

Bog bean
This is the bog bean – a species which is very uncommon but is common in the Rhos Pastures and is a nectar source for the marsh fritillaries.

After much effort I have now managed to see and photograph  all seven species of Dartmoor fritillary butterflies: pearl bordered, small pearl bordered, dark green, silver washed, high brown, marsh and heath. Happy days.