A very British butterfly

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A very British butterfly

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There are some species of wildlife that may not have the 'wow' factor, but have an understated charm that I feel is rather British.

This is one of them:

It is the Ringlet butterfly (no prizes for guessing why).

And right now is its peak season. It emerges in mid June, peaks during July, and goes over rapidly in August, one of the most predictable butterfly flight seasons of any species.

As a kid, this was a butterfly I used to count in their hundreds on a transect survey our family did in a local woodland nature reserve. And they were in the lane near our house. But rarely did they ever make it into our garden.

As always, we must look to their Home Needs for a reason. What did our garden not have that the local Ringlets needed?

Well, what they like are moderately shady, damp grassy areas where the grass grows tall and lush. Here the females gaily jettison their eggs willy nilly into the vegetation, where the caterpillars will feed on the coarse grasses in spring (ie not on your regulation lawn grass, Perennial Rye Grass).

And they need enough of this habitat to form a close-knit colony. This butterfly is not a wanderer - it stays very much close to its friends and family.

So had I understood this as a child, perhaps I could have encouraged (= harassed) my parents to let me develop a Ringlet area.

There are no Ringlets near enough to where I live now, but perhaps you are lucky enough to have them visit, and maybe you even have a colony breeding in your garden. Let me know!

PS Don't confuse it with Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper or Speckled Wood. It is the underside that is really distinctive, but here's what a Ringlet looks like from above, showing fainter 'ringlets' on all-chocolate wings:

  • Due to lack of grazing by our flock of sheep, which  now consists only of 4 old (mostly toothless!) ladies, their field this year has become a wonderful meadow which on warm days is full of ringlets, meadow browns, small skippers and gatekeepers!!  When is the earliest we can cut this so as not to damage the eggs/caterpillars?  We hope to have an even better show next year and are looking to sow some wild flowers too.


  • I am a garden volunteer at Springhill, a 17th century old country house in Moneymore, N Ireland. Over the last two years we have attempted to establish a butterfly garden at the edge of a wood.

    Last year we sowed non-named seed mix for butterflies and named seed such as teasels and birds-foot trefoil and planted several buddleia bushes. We set up a rock pile(for butterflies to bask on) and a shallow pool. This year we sowed asters, sweet rocket,honesty, sunflower, lavender and a wildflower selection of corn marigold, field poppy, wild pansy and field scabious. Germination both years has been disppointing but we have had great results with teasels growing to over 2m tall and the woodland soil produced a mass of self seeded foxgloves.  We have had few butterflies so far but plenty of bumblebees in the foxgloves.  There are masses of nettles in and around the wood and these are left uncut to provide host plants. Hope the butterflies come!! Will keep you posted.

    Brian Sweeney

  • Nice one, Alison. Have you got somewhere where they might breed, or where you could encourage them? For nectar, try knapweeds and scabiouses.

  • Thanks, Maggy. Glad you enjoy them too. The delicate white fringe on fresh Ringlet wings I find especially entrancing.

  • Just seen a Ringlet in my garden in Guildford, Surrey today.

  • Lovely photos, Adrian.   I agree, Ringlet are understated but neat and pretty.   I am lucky enough to be able to see them on Blackford Hill in Edinburgh.