Conservationists all a-flutter over county's butterfly species

A small copper butterfly, of the kind seen on Nomansland Common near Wheathampstead.

A small copper butterfly, of the kind seen on Nomansland Common near Wheathampstead. - Credit: Butterfly Conservation

A picture of how the county's butterflies have been faring over the past year has been revealed by local conservationists.

Butterfly Conservation have published a comprehensive report analysing over 57,000 records from enthusiasts to reveal the contrasting fortunes of 41 species during 2020. 

Hertfordshire and Middlesex butterfly recorder Andrew Wood said:  “This booklet gives us an up-to-date snapshot of how our area’s butterflies are faring at a time when such information is needed more than ever to help maintain a healthy environment.” 

Thanks to a record 57,534 submissions from enthusiasts across the region, the report shows how some species are doing extremely well, while others are suffering alarming declines. 

The purple emperor, for example, had hardly ever been recorded in Herts until about 20 years ago, but the report shows it is now widespread, thriving in most major woods.

Andrew said: “This species was only recently considered very rare, but is now seen in twice as many two-kilometre squares as the white admiral!” 

The report also shows how butterfly life-cycles are adapting to our warming climate, with purple emperors now emerging as adults a week earlier than in 2019.

A purple emperor butterfly.

A purple emperor butterfly. - Credit: Butterfly Conservation

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Another butterfly now booming in the region is the attractive marbled white, with several counts of over 100 per site. 

The dark green fritillary  – actually vivid orange  - is found at a just a handful of chalk downland sites in the county, but Therfield Heath near Royston was home to at least 75 last summer.

A dark green fritillary on Therfield Heath.

A dark green fritillary on Therfield Heath. - Credit: Butterfly Conservation

Other success stories revealed by the report are the expansions of the small copper, and the small heath, which was officially earmarked as a national conservation priority in 2007 after a rapid decline, but is now common in many grassland sites. 

Although the small copper is declining nationally, good numbers were seen at Nomansland Common near Wheathampstead – especially in September. 

Branch chairman Malcolm Hull said: “The rapid loss of biodiversity is one of the greatest crises of our age. Recording butterflies, reporting your sightings to us and planting butterfly-friendly plants are great ways you can give nature a helping hand.” 

The report is available for just £3 including post and packing, with any profits dedicated to butterfly conservation. 

Anyone interested in obtaining a copy should email Andrew Wood at He suggests a £3 donation online to