A guide to the butterflies you might spot this summer

A guide to the butterflies you might spot this summer

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Butterflies are one of the most welcome sights of the summer for many people, as they flit from flower to flower and bask in our gardens in all their colourful glory.

One of the species you might see more of during the coming weeks is the Painted Lady, as a report published in June by Butterfly Conservation showed they were amassing in Europe in higher-than-usual numbers, ready to migrate to our shores.

The last time this happened was 2009, when 11 million of the orange, black and white insects descended on the UK as far north as the highest reaches of Scotland, but conservationists are hopeful a mass immigration might occur again in 2015 - so look out for them!

With this in mind, we thought you might be interested in taking the time to spot some more of our summer residents and visitors, so we've put together a guide to ten of the most common butterflies for Britain.

1.    Painted Lady

As just mentioned, this is a migrant and numbers peak in early August. You can spot them everywhere from seashores to urban gardens - and even on intensively-farmed fields, where they congregate on thistles. The wings are orange with a black pattern, teamed with black tips that feature white dots.

2.    Small Tortoiseshell

Again, this butterfly is orange and black, but the black is closer to its body. There's also a distinctive triangular pattern of blue around the edges of the wings. The Small Tortoiseshell occurs throughout the British Isles and you should definitely spot a few in your garden.

3.    Peacock

Much more common these days, this species is instantly recognisable thanks to its deep red wings that feature eye spots to deter predators. You'll find it throughout Britain, except in the very north of Scotland. It can often be spotted on the Buddleia (Buddleja) bush.

4.    Red Admiral

One of our best-loved butterflies, but sadly not as common as it used to be. It's often confused with the Small Tortoiseshell, but it's actually much redder as opposed to orange and has a higher intensity of black on its wings. It's also considerably larger. Many of the Red Admirals you'll spot this summer will be migrants that arrived in May or June to top up our resident population.

5.    Small White

Often referred to as Cabbage White along with the Large White, this insect is an almost greenish white with black spots on the wings. You'll find it everywhere from gardens and hedgerows to grasslands and allotments.

6.    Gatekeeper

This butterfly can be found south of Westmorland and south-east Yorkshire in England and it appears to be extending its range, so you could well spot one. It is a beautiful golden orange with a thick black border all around the edges of its wings - look out for it in shrubs close to rough grassland.

7.    Meadow Brown

Often confused with the Gatekeeper, this species is actually much darker, with most of its wings a blackish brown and just a splash or orange on the tips, together with a black spot. It's also more common and can be found in grassy habitats including field margins, road verges and woodland rides across Britain.

8.    Common Blue

This is the most common blue species we have here in Britain and is a striking cornflower hue, with pointier forewings than hindwings. You could spot it on grass verges, wasteland, woodland clearings and perhaps even sand dunes.

9.    Comma

The Comma is easy to mistake for a tatty Small Tortoiseshell, but doesn't have the blue patterns. Instead, it is orange with almost a leopard print in black and a white splash on the undersides - and the wing shape is distinguishable as a delicate frill when you get up close. You'll find it throughout England and Wales, mostly in woodlands, but also in gardens when it comes in for nectar.

10.    Small Skipper

This butterfly is frequently mistaken for a moth due to the shape of its wings, with the fore section elongated. You can find it among tall grass stems in rough grassland, where it will often bask on the vegetation in the sunshine.

Check which butterfly you're looking at with the assistance of this helpful book from the Wildlife Trusts, which contains illustrations for more than 150 species.

Common or not?

Unfortunately, although we've referred to these butterflies as 'common', many are seen a lot less frequently than they would have been 50 years ago, largely due to changes in habitat management.

Even when restoration projects take place, re-colonisation can take several years due to butterflies' sensitivity to change.

Many species have also demonstrated a significant decline due to climate change, pesticides and parasites.

How you can help

A really helpful thing you can do for butterflies is to plant nectar sources in your garden, something president of Butterfly Conservation Sir David Attenborough recently called for to help reverse their decline.

He suggested making use of pots and window ledges to grow things like lavender and Echinacea, while butterfly bushes and carefully selected border plants will also be well-received.

Add a Butterfly & Insect Hibernation House and you'll provide shelter from bad weather too, which should help to boost the numbers you spot in your garden.

Finally, don't forget to join in with Butterfly Conservation's Big Butterfly Count between July 17th and August 9th, the details of which can be found on the dedicated website.

Do send us any photos you take of the butterflies you see this summer and we'll share as many as we can on our Twitter and Facebook pages.