Tuesday, 23 July 2013

The Heath Fritillaries of Blean Woods

Heath Fritillary (Melitaea athalia) 

To see anything truly rare in the UK usually requires a long journey to some remote corner of Scotland. Not so for the Heath Fritillary, one of Britain's rarest butterflies, which makes its home in Exmoor and in select parts of the woodland surrounding Canterbury. The best sites for seeing them are East Blean Wood NNR and Blean Woods NNR, and it was the latter I visited on a hot clear day in early July, hoping to get some photos.

In a normal year numbers are expected to peak towards the end of June, but the wet spring seems to have pushed everything back, butterflies included. I'd remembered from previous visits that Heath Fritillaries favour the open drove-ways or "rides" that transect the woods, and it was on one of these rides (where the black trail splits from the red trail) that I encountered a cluster of about a dozen - all in pristine condition.

Not having visited Blean Woods for a while, I'd forgotten how tricky these little butterflies are to photograph, but - with a great deal of patience - I managed to get a few shots worth keeping.

Heath Fritillary (Melitaea athalia)

I didn't quite succeed in nailing the wings-wide-open photo I was looking for, but the pictures I did get were an improvement on previous efforts. An incentive perhaps - if incentives are needed to seek out this lovely little butterfly - to try again next year.

See also:
More of my Heath Fritillary photos on Flickr
Heath Fritillary (UK Butterflies)
Status of the Heath Fritillary - Kent Biodiversity Action Plan (PDF)

Blean Woods (RSPB)
The Big Blean Walk (PDF)