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Top 5 butterfly spots in Herts

PUBLISHED: 06:00 09 August 2016 | UPDATED: 09:03 10 August 2016

Chalkhill blue, Hertfordshire is one of the few places to see it (Jim Higham)

Chalkhill blue, Hertfordshire is one of the few places to see it (Jim Higham)

Jim Higham

With the sun shining and flowers blooming, it’s a great time to go exploring for butterflies. Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust’s Charlotte Hussey picks her top five places in the county to spot them

1. Albury Nowers

Northfield Road, Tring HP23 5QW

With its splendid wild flowers, Aldbury Nowers is arguably the best site in the county for butterflies, with up to 30 different species. Head to the coppiced glades to be in with a chance of spotting marbled white, meadow brown and ringlet, alongside the larger dark green fritillary and the silver washed fritillary. Following chalk grassland restoration work, small blues can also be seen. The warm south-facing slopes host the small but beautiful flowers of chalk grassland including common milkwort, common rock rose, clustered bellflower and lady’s bedstraw.

2. Balls Wood

Marbled Whites feeding on bramble flowers (Sarah Buckingham)Marbled Whites feeding on bramble flowers (Sarah Buckingham)

Hertford Heath SG13 7PW

Fans of the white admiral need look no further than the large and varied woodland of Balls Wood. Walkers may also spot red admirals, orange tips, gatekeepers, speckled woods, ringlets, small skippers, large skippers and commas. The northern part of this woodland is the oldest and varies from mature hornbeam coppice to mixed woodland of ash and field maple. Look along the edges of the sunny rides throughout the wood – white admirals and silver-washed fritillaries can often be spotted feeding on the bramble flowers. You may see a purple emperor here too if you are lucky.

3. Waterford Heath

Vicarage Lane, Waterford SG14 3LU

The elusive and impressive purple emperor may be seen at Danesmead and Balls Wood (Getty Images/iStockphoto)The elusive and impressive purple emperor may be seen at Danesmead and Balls Wood (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

From mid-April onwards, rare grizzled skipper butterflies can be found flying close to their main larval food plant, wild strawberry or roosting on the seed heads of last year’s St John’s wort at this former sand and gravel quarry. You may also see orange tip, peacock, small tortoiseshell, purple hairstreak, marbled white and common blue butterflies as a wide variety of wildflowers draws them to this locally-rare open habitat in summer. The new Chalk Stream and Heath Circular Walk takes in the best of the reserve and nearby Waterford Marsh.

4. Hexton Chalk Pit

Hexton Road, Hexton SG5 3JP

This small reserve is full of chalk grassland herbs and grasses and has fantastic views of the surrounding landscape. July sees large numbers of the rare chalk-hill blue butterflies, with dingy skipper and green hairstreak butterflies also being found in the grasslands in spring. The reserve also boasts five species of orchid and the uncommon slender tare whose delicate purple flowers can be seen from June-August.

5. Danemead

Hoddesdon EN11 8GG

Danemead reserve consists of valley mire, unimproved damp acid grassland, scrub, stream and hornbeam woodland. In July you may find the rare purple emperor – keep your eyes peeled for this elusive butterfly feeding on the ground or in the tops of trees. Other butterflies are abundant, including white admiral. The reserve has significant archaeological and historic interest.

Butterfly facts

- There are 59 species of butterfly in the UK.

- Butterflies can be found from shoreline to mountain top but many species are habitat specialists and require very specific conditions. A slight change in environment can mean that certain butterflies disappear rapidly; for example the white admiral requires honeysuckle in shady woodland for the successful development of its larvae.

- The lifespan of a butterfly depends on the species, the minimum lifespan of an adult is just a few days, while the average lifespan is 20-40 days. The maximum is 11 months.

- Butterflies sip nectar from flowers and juice from rotting fruit and animal droppings, they also drink water. You can make your garden butterfly friendly by planting nectar rich plants in the sunshine, regularly watering your plants and encouraging wild areas with tall grass and wildflowers.

- Hertfordshire is a fantastic place to see grassland and woodland butterflies and is home to rare species such as the chalkhill blue, which is confined to calcareous grassland in southern England.

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