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


The Rhos pastures of Dartmoor

I visited some Rhos pasture meadows near Challacombe yesterday. Dartmoor National Park Authority describe Rhos pastures as follows:-

“Rhôs pastures are enclosed species-rich purple moor-grass and rush pastures. On Dartmoor they are found in valley systems away from the open moor, usually in a mosaic together with wet woodland, other species-rich grasslands and oakwood. Dartmoor has 1,200 hectares of this habitat, representing 20% of the English resource 

The most distinctive plants of this habitat on Dartmoor are the meadow thistle, devil’s-bit scabious, heath spotted orchid and saw-wort, all colourful plants. They grow in amongst either purple moor-grass or sharp-flowered rush and there may be some creeping willow present. Other plants that can be found include ivy-leaved bellflower, lesser spearwort, marsh thistle, sneezewort, greater bird’s foot trefoil and marsh violet .

Rhôs pasture is home to marbled white butterflies, which can be abundant, small pearl-bordered fritillary and the highly protected marsh fritillary which is found in colonies representing about 20% of the English resource. One of Britain’s rarest damselflies, the southern damselfly, also occurs in a single Rhôs pasture on Dartmoor. The rare narrow-bordered bee hawkmoth, which feeds on devil’s bit scabious can also be found, often in association with marsh fritillary.”

Marsh marigold
The pastures will be in their full glory in a few weeks but already plants such as marsh marigold are flowering

Large red damselflyLarge red damselfly was on the wing

Small Pearl bordered fritillarySmall pearl bordered fritillaries were feeding in the fields

sericomyia lapponica 2The hoverfly Sericomyia lappona was quite common

willow warblerWillow warblers were singing from the hedges

Common buzzardBuzzards were flying overhead

Green hairstreak 4And green hairstreaks were on the scrub and bracken

Glorious meadows, beautifully managed for their wildlife by the local farmers – I will be back later in June to have another look!

Small pearl bordered fritillaries

I was out yesterday afternoon looking at marsh fritillary habitat as we are trying to produce some suitable habitat for them at Parke and in the Teign Valley. I couldn’t find any marsh fritillaries but I did come across a small colony of small pearl bordered fritillaries.

Small pearl bordered fritillary 3This is a male small pearl bordered fritillary

Small pearl bordered fritillary 5This is a female – brighter ‘pearls’ around the lower margins of the wings

Small pearl bordered fritillary 1
Amazing underwing colouration

Small pearl bordered fritillary 2

Small pearl bordered fritillary 4Hanging on as the buttercup bends

Small pearl bordered fritillaries have declined massively across the country with the heaviest losses in Eastern and Central England. Dartmoor is still a strong hold for the species. The best National Trust places to see the butterfly are Hembury Woods in the Dart Valley – the open ground around the hill fort and in the Teign Valley below Castle Drogo.

I wish it could be summer and sunny every day and  then I wish I would have the time to chase butterflies all the time – it’s just a dream

Violets at Hembury Woods

From a distance it looks as if the bluebells are out – they are not – it is still too early. When you get closer you see they are violets – thousands and thousands of them.

Violet 2Violets flowering amongst the bluebell leaves

Violet 3Good to see so many – violets are the food plant for our pearl bordered and small pearl bordered fritillary butterflies

Violet 1A close up shot

Small pearl bordered fritillaries at Hembury Woods

On my way back to Parke yesterday I dropped into Hembury Woods for 30 minutes just to have a quick look around. I only had time to whizz around the Hillfort area but I did manage to see a few butterflies and moths……

Small Pearl bordered fritillaryA freshly emerged male small pearl bordered fritillary (thanks Matthew Oates for confirming my identification)

Small Pearl bordered fritillary detailClose up

Pearl bordered fritillaryAn older worn pearl bordered fritillary

Speckled yellowA speckled yellow moth – a day flying moth which feeds on wood sage

Hembury Woods is one of the best butterfly sites in the UK – its populations of pearl bordered and small pearl bordered fritillaries along with the rarer high brown fritillary are bucking the national trends and are either holding their own or increasing.

Our Ranger John Wales must take much of the credit for this as he has worked very hard to get the management exactly right. The butterfly expert and guru Professor Jeremy Thomas and his colleague Dave Simcox work regularly at Hembury monitoring the butterfly populations – John meets with them to discuss fine tuning the management of the site. This approach certainly seems to be working!