Welcome to Alan Thornbury's Hampshire Butterflies

This site is dedicated to the wild butterflies of Hampshire and the places they live and breed. My aim in creating it is to share my interest in these beautiful creatures, motivate others to do so and help increase momentum in their conservation, both at UK national level and in my locality in Hampshire, Southern England.

The web address I chose for this site is named after Hampshire's largest butterfly and one of its most spectacular - the Purple Emperor - and Hampshire is a stronghold for this species in the UK. It's an elusive butterfly, but the Purple Emperor can be observed in several of the county's larger woodlands during July, spending much of its time high in the treetops, but sometimes treating the observer to a flying display of immense speed and agility. Then, if you are really lucky, you may witness a much closer encounter as His (or Her) Majesty fearlessly descends to the ground to feed or imbibe.

The Purple Emperor's status in UK and Hampshire is, thankfully, not a particular cause for concern at the moment. However an alarming three-quarters of the UK's resident or regular migrant butterfly species, many of which can be found in Hampshire, are in a state of long term decline, as measured over a period of 4 decades - some at a rapid rate.


Purple Emperor - Apatura iris

Only the male has the iridescent purple sheen on its wings

Furthermore, several species found in the county are among those which have declined the most in either national distribution or abundance. These include habitat specialists, such as the Duke of Burgundy, Pearl-bordered and Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries, as well as butterflies of the wider countryside such as the Wall, Small Heath and a much loved garden butterfly, the Small Tortoiseshell. Indeed, a number of wider countryside species now rank among the most severely declining UK butterflies, which is a profound concern.

The destruction and deterioration of habitats as a result of land-use change (e.g. intensification of agriculture, changing woodland management) are considered the prime causes of long-term decline among habitat specialist butterflies, although the factors responsible for the decreases of wider countryside species, which are faring better in the north than in the south, are not at present well understood.

Set against this gloomy background of long-term decline, there are some glimmers of hope. Trends over the past decade show that the long term decline of some threatened species may have been halted and small recoveries seen in some areas. Examples include the Duke of Burgundy and Pearl-bordered Fritillary. In addition, a minority of UK butterflies have fared well since the 1970s, increasing their northward range, most likely in response to climate change. However, the latest research suggests that we should no longer assume that southerly-distributed species will necessarily benefit in the future from climate change, and the increasing frequency of extreme climatic events may have serious implications for butterfly populations.

Butterflies are the best-studied UK insects by far, providing vital insights into the health of our environment, including biodiversity, which underpins services essential for human welfare and economic prosperity. They also act as a flagship for the general public to engage in conservation and the natural world. Thus the plight of our butterflies, as one of the most threatened wildlife groups in the UK, has much wider implications than at face value.

So, please take a few minutes to browse this site using the menu on the left. It contains a wealth of information, both in words and pictures, which I hope will stimulate or strengthen your interest in observing, studying and ultimately conserving these insects and their habitats, bearing in mind the conservation challenges ahead are huge.

Highlights include:

  • In the Butterfly Species pages, photographs and descriptions of each species regularly found in Hampshire, organised according to their family names, together with information to assist the observer, including flight period, observation tips and examples of sites where they can be found. The introduction provides additional information on the status of our butterflies.
  • In the Butterfly Sites pages, summary notes on each of the Hampshire sites mentioned in the species section, with a link to a location map. For some of the sites which I know well, a longer feature has been prepared, with photos, a more detailed description and other useful information.
  • A flight period chart, providing guidance on when each of Hampshire's butterfly species should be on the wing.
  • A comprehensive photo archive arranged into several galleries, providing higher resolution butterfly photos taken by myself during recent years, from visits mostly within Hampshire but also from further afield in UK. You may have guessed by now that I am also a keen photographer! The galleries are arranged into:
    • Species galleries which, like the butterfly species pages, are arranged by butterfly family
    • Recent season highlights showing my selection of photos from the previous two seasons
    • Current season galleries showing only photos taken during the current season. For the most recent photos there is a separate "Recent Photos" gallery.
  • A butterfly video and slideshow page with links to butterfly videos and photo diaries of my visits to butterfly sites.
  • A blog page which I update regularly during the flight season, with notes on recent visits and sightings.
  • A links page providing links to websites of relevant conservation organisations and also sites providing good sources of additional reference information. 

There is also a 'What's New' page so you can see if the site has been updated since your last visit and a Contact Form, in case you would like to provide feedback on the site or ask me a question on Hampshire Butterflies. I can't guarantee I will have the answer, but I will reply. 

All photos on this site are © Alan Thornbury unless indicated otherwise