Scotch argus butterflies take to the air at Smardale Nature Reserve

The warm conditions of the last week have encouraged a profusion of the rare Scotch argus butterfly to take to the air at Cumbria Wildlife Trust’s Smardale Nature Reserve, near Kirkby Stephen.
Scotch argus butterfly

Scotch argus butterfly
© Andrew Walter

Clouds of this very dark butterfly, with subtle sumptuous red eyespots, can be found floating all around you, and is an experience not to be missed. 

It can be seen for around two miles as you walk west from the main carpark towards Newbiggin-on-Lune, signed to Waitby. They are likely to be around in good numbers for another couple of weeks, depending upon the weather.

“This is a rare sight for Britain, as the butterfly is at the southern limit of its natural range and there are only two populations south of the Scottish border. The flight of the Scotch argus is one of the many high points that Smardale Nature Reserve has to offer. It is awash with flowering plants and buzzing with wildlife.”
Andrew Walter, Reserves Officer for Cumbria Wildlife Trust

You can join Cumbria Wildlife Trust and Butterfly Conservation on a guided walk to see the Scotch argus butterfly on Tuesday 13 August, meet in the car park at 10:00am.

Other butterflies that can be found at Smardale Nature Reserve include dark green fritillary, common blue, northern brown argus and dingy skipper.

Stunning scenery provides a backdrop to this wonderfully varied nature reserve that stretches from Newbiggin-on-Lune almost as far as Kirkby Stephen. The species-rich grassland attracts a variety of pollinating insects and the industrial archaeology of the railway line adds constant interest. The steep wooded slopes of Smardale Gill and the enclosed cuttings along the Waitby Link contrast with the views of open rolling countryside experienced along the route.

Woodland has probably been present in Smardale Gill since the medieval period and as a result a great diversity of plant species can be found here. In spring you will find bluebells, primroses, wild garlic and many fern species on the woodland floor. Many of the trees are multi stemmed, evidence that coppicing has occurred in the past.

Visitors to the nature reserve might also spot red squirrels feasting on hazelnuts or racing between the trees

Smardale Nature Reserve is off the A685 between Ravenstonedale and Kirkby Stephen. Smardale Gill Viaduct, cared for by the Northern Viaduct Trust, is current closed because of safety concerns about the handrails. You can find a map of an alternative route on our webpage. The Scotch argus can be seen at the opposite end of the nature reserve towards Waitby.

Cumbria Wildlife Trust has recently created a new car park, with plenty of parking spaces, and a new visitor entrance, which was greatly needed due to the increasing popularity of the nature reserve. The local wildlife charity has also created an accessible walkway linking the new car park to the original entrance to Smardale Gill only 300 metres away on the other side of Smardale village. The new car park was made possible thanks to donations from individuals and grants from LEADERYDNPA sustainability fund and the Eden Community Fund.

A path through Smardale Nature Reserve

Smardale Nature Reserve
© Andrew Walter