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Great places to see spring butterflies

Cumbria has such a wide range of habitats: from coastal sand dunes to the west, limestone grasslands in the south and a large area of peat bog in the north; there are places for all kinds of butterflies to thrive. Combine this with the fact our county has butterflies most at home in Scotland and those from the warmer south of our island, means we boast 41 species altogether – quite a lot for a northern county. Our guide to Great Places to See Spring Butterflies in Cumbria recommends great woodlands, meadows, industrial places and areas of the coast to spot beautiful butterflies.


1. Allithwaite Quarry

Lower Allithwaite Council

Marsh harrier. Photo Damian WatersAbandoned industrial sites such as quarries are often great places to find wildlife as the nutrient-poor soil is perfect for wild flowers. These flowers attract butterflies and at Allithwaite Quarry you’ll find an abundance of large, small and green-veined white butterflies whose larve feed on plants in the crucifer family – these butterflies are more commonly known collectively as cabbage whites.

Flight time: April-June

Where is it?

By car: Allithwaite lies 2 miles south west of Grange-over-Sands. In Allithwaite turn onto Quarry Lane (by the post office) and park by the community playing fields where there is plenty of parking. Please do not park in Quarry Lane itself.
By bicycle: The quarry is a short detour from National Route 700
By public transport: Buses run from Grange-over-Sands to Allithwaite

Photo: Large whites. Photo: Amy Lewis

2. Barkbooth Lot Nature Reserve

Cumbria Wildlife Trust

Kestrel. Photo Bob CoyleFor a relatively small area, Barkbooth Lot packs a lot in. Open fell land, with a mix of rough grassland, bracken and scrub, and two small tarns, contrasts with the oak woodland. Walk through the rough grassland areas and look out for the rare small pearl-bordered fritillary butterfly. The combination of bracken and violets growing here provide ideal breeding conditions for this species.

Flight time: May-June.

Where is it?

By car: From Bowness-on-Windermere take the A5074 towards Crosthwaite. South of Winster, just after the Damson Dene Hotel, take a sharp right hand turn and follow this minor road for 0.5 miles. Park in the layby on the left-hand side of the road at the nature reserve entrance.
By bicycle: The reserve is 5 miles from National Route 70 and National Route 6.
By public transport: Buses run from Kendal to Crosthwaite.

More information on Barkbooth Lot Nature Reserve

Photo: Small pearl-bordered fritillary by Cumbria Butterfly Conservation

3. Brigsteer Woods

National Trust

Osprey. Photo: Charlotte Rowley

The speckled wood is one of the few butterflies that enjoys the shady conditions found in our ancient woodlands. It’s one of the few butterflies whose population is increasing, probably due to climate change with milder winters giving greater growth of the grasses that feed their caterpillars. Brigsteer Woods is a lovely place in spring, with daffodils and bluebells making a beautiful display.

Flight time: April-June.

Where is it?

By car: From Levens head north on Main Street onto Brigsteer Road, continue into the woodland and look out for roadside parking on the left near an information sign.
By bicycle: Brigsteer Woods is 1.5 miles north of National Route 70.
By public transport: Buses run from Kendal to Levens.

More information on Brigsteer Woods

Photo: Speckled wood by Neil Aldridge

4. Drigg Dunes and Gullery

Natural England

Barn owl. Photo: Margaret Holland

Drigg Dunes is home to many unusual plants and animals but is also a great place to see one of our more easily spotted butterflies, the common blue. Adults will lay their eggs on wild flowers – mainly bird’s-foot-trefoil, a plant that likes the low-nutrient sandy soil, which is found on the shore of this coastal nature reserve.

Flight time: late May-early July.

Where is it?

By car: From the A595 turn west at Holmrook (north of Muncaster) towards Drigg. From Drigg follow Shore Road (signed beach and station) to the end where there is a parking area.
By bicycle: The reserve is 1 mile from National Route 72.
By public transport: Drigg Train Station is on the west Cumbria line and runs from Carlisle in the north of the county to Arnside in the south. 

More information on Drigg Dunes and Gullery

Photo: Common blue by Cumbria Wildlife Trust

5. Finglandrigg Wood National Nature Reserve

Natural England

Red kite. Photo: Amy Lewis

Marsh fritillary butterflies nearly became extinct in Cumbria when in 2004 there was only one small population left. A captive breeding programme resulted in the butterflies being released on 20 sites on the Solway Mosses, including Finglandrigg Wood where it is now thriving. Follow the footpath onto the reserve to the south for 3/4 mile to the two fields full of the caterpillar food plant, devil’s-bit scabious, where the butterflies can be spotted.

Flight time:  late May-early June

Where is it?

By car: From Carlisle, follow the B5307 Kirkbride Road, go through Kirkbampton village and after 1 mile you will see Haverlands Green layby on the left. Park by the Natural England sign.
By bicycle: The reserve is 3 miles from National Route 72.
By public transport: Buses run from Carlisle to Kirkbampton.

More information on Finglandrigg Wood National Nature Reserve

Photo: Marsh fritillary by Phillip Precey

6. Howe Ridding Wood Nature Reserve

Cumbria Wildlife Trust

Golden eagle. Photo Stewart McDonald

Orange-tip butterflies can be seen in all sorts of places, including your own garden, but it’s well worth visiting the ancient orchard at Howe Ridding Wood to see if you can spot one there. These butterflies like the woodland edge habitat here where they can find wild flowers such as garlic mustard, hedge mustard and cuckooflower; three of their main food plants.

Flight time: April-May.

Where is it?

By car: From the A590 take the road signposted to Witherslack. From Witherslack continue north along the minor road, pass Witherslack Hall School and continue for a further 0.9 miles. Park where a public footpath leaves the road on the right hand side and follow the path through the woods for 0.4 miles until the reserve is reached.
By bicycle: The reserve is 3 miles from National Route 70.
By public transport: Buses run from Barrow in Furness, Ulverston and Kendal to Witherslack.

More information on Howe Ridding Wood Nature Reserve

Photo: Orange-tip by Vicky Nall

7. Hutton Roof Crags Nature Reserve

 Cumbria Wildlife Trust

Peregrine. Photo: Steve Waterhouse

Hutton Roof Crags contains some of the best areas of limestone pavement in Britain, with a wealth of unusual plants and animals. Although a wide-spread butterfly, small heath are in severe decline. Not confined entirely to heathland as the name suggests, this butterfly likes the open grassland found at Hutton Roof Crags.

Flight time:  May-July.

Where is it?

By car: From M6 junction 36 take A65 then A6070 towards Burton-in-Kendal. At the Clawthorpe Hall Business Centre take the left turn signed for Clawthorpe. Follow this for approx. 0.9 miles and park where bridleway is signed for Burton. Follow bridleway across the field and into the wood until the reserve is reached.
By bicycle: The reserve 2.5 miles from National Route 90.
By public transport: Buses run from Lancaster and Kendal to Burton-in-Kendal.

More about the Hutton Roof Crags Nature Reserve

Photo:Small heath by Cumbria Wildlife Trust


8. Latterbarrow Nature Reserve

Cumbria Wildlife Trust

Hobbie. Photo Amy Lewis

Latterbarrow is home to an amazing variety of plants with over 200 species recorded including buckthorn, the larval food plant of the brimstone butterfly. You’ll have to look carefully though, it’s beautiful leaf shape and colour helps disguise it when resting. It’s thought that the word butterfly is derived from the lovely butter-yellow colour of the male of this species.

Flight time: March-May

Where is it?

By car: From the A590 take the turning signposted Witherslack. Pass the Derby Arms and turn immediately left onto the former A590. The reserve entrance lies about 0.2 miles along the old road, where a bridleway is signposted to the right.
By bicycle: The reserve is on National Route 70.
By public transport: Buses run from Barrow-in-Furness and Kendal to Witherslack.

More about Latterbarrow Nature Reserve

Photo: Brimstone by Amy Lewis

9. Meathop Moss Nature Reserve

Little owl. Photo Margaret Holland

Green hairstreak butterflies are attracted to Meathop Moss because of the abundant bilberry that grows there – a specialist wetland plant. The larvae of the butterflies will feast on the plants when hatched and help to form a healthy colony at this nature reserve. Over 200 species of butterflies and moths have been recorded here.

Flight time: April-May.

Where is it?

By car: From A590 take the minor road signed for Ulpha. Approx 0.9km/0.5 miles from the junction just before High Stock Bridge park in the layby on right hand side where track to moss leads off the road. Follow the track along field edge to get onto reserve.
By bicycle: The reserve is on National Route 70.
By public transport: Buses run from Barrow-in-Furness and Kendal to Witherslack. 

More information about Meathop Moss Nature Reserve

Photo: Green hairstreak by Paul Thrush

10. Workington Wind Farm

Sparrowhawk. Photo Steve Waterhouse

Small blue butterflies are mostly confined to the southern half of England, but a small population hangs on in the industrial areas around Workington. Kidney vetch is the main food plant of the small blue catepillar and this plant is often found in the nutrient-poor soils of brownfield sites.

Flight time: late May-late June.

Where is it?

By car: Head north towards Maryport and at the roundabout just north of the river take the exit signed for Port of Workington. Go over the railway bridge and turn right, past the Eon signs and then turn left where you’ll find a large car park.
By bicycle: The wind farm is 0.5 miles from National Route 71.
By public transport: Buses run from Workington to Maryport.

Photo: Small blue by Cumbria Butterfly Conservation

Download Great Places to See Spring Butterflies as a PDF

Great Places to See Birds of Prey