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  • Writer's pictureSim Elliott

Butterflies at Denbies Hillside and Ranmore Common (Surrey Hills AONB). 09.07.22

I caught the train to Box Hill and Westhumble Station from Brighton (changing at Gatwick Airport and Horsham), a journey of 90 minutes, to reach the Denbies Hillside (an area of unimproved chalk grassland on the North Downs) see Denbies Hillside | National Trust and Ranmore Common (mostly beech and oak trees with paths and open woodland rides), which is a Sight of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) see Ranmore Common | Surrey Hills; these locations are within eh Surrey Hills Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, see: One of England's Finest Landscapes ( I reached the Denbies Hillside via the North Downs Way; this is a walk of about 4k

I went there because I knew the Denbies Hillside and Ranmore Common are good sites to see Butterflies (and and this time of year, the Denbies Hillside is a good place to see Chalkhill Blues; I saw plenty of them.

I saw Chalkhill Blues, Marbled Whites, Meadow Browns, Gatekeepers, Green-Veined Whites, Small and Large Whites, Brown Argus, Commas, Ringlets, Dark Green Fritillaries, Small (or Essex) Skippers, Silver Washed Fritillaries, and up in the trees in Ranmore Common, White Admirals.

I also saw Linnets, a Mistle Thrush, bumblebees and a Bank Voles. The photos in this post are in chorological order not in species groups. All sections of text in italics are quotations, sources cites at the end of quotations.

Box Hill and Westhumble Station

North Downs Way to Ranmore Common

From Westhumble I walked a footpath which joined the North Downs Way

The North Down's Way from Westhumble is initially wooded

and I saw this Green-Veined White in the woods; Green0Veined Whites are often seen by the side of woodland rides

Further south-west east of Westhumble the North Downs Way passes by the vineyards of Denbies Wine Estate estate start.

On the north side of the South Downs Estate there were many wild flowers; here Kidney Vetch

Field Scabious

Gatekeeper on Wild Marjoram; favoured plant for many butterflies to nectar on, especially Chalkhill Blues

Gatekeepers have only just emerged in their adult form

Spear Thistle

Field Scabious

A Red Soldier Beetle on scabious

A Song Thrush

Male Meadow Brown on Scabious

Adult Meadow Browns have been flying sine the beginning of June

A memorial seat with bas-relief carvings of horses, outside Ranmore Common church

St Barnabus Church, Ranmore Common

The famous Sir George Gilbert Scott was the Church’s architect [architect of the Albert Memorial, St Pancras Station and the Red Telephone Box see: Buildings Archives - He was particularly fond of Gothic architecture and took the opportunity at Ranmore to build a “High Victoriana” scaled-down cathedral for his wealthy client [George Cubitt, later 1st Baron Ashcombe, Master Builder of Denbies House, and Osbourne House] .Although many projects went out from Scott’s busy office under his name, it is believed he himself designed St Barnabas, a particularly good and original example of his work in the Early English Gothic Revival style: it has been said that “it has his fingerprints all over it”. The special nature of this Church was recognised in 2008 when its listing from Grade II to Grade ll* was upgraded by English Heritage, with the explanation, “The quality of the building from its form to its finest detail, its intactness, its historic interest both as an estate church for the Cubitt family and as an example of a complete church designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott. St Barnabas Church, Ranmore Common | Ranmore War Memorial

The Graveyard of the Church

Marbled White in Knapweed

A butterfly of July and August

A Gatekeeper in the churchyard

A Marbled White in the churchyard

The edge of Ranmore Common woods, opposite the Denbies Hillside NT carpark, had many bramble bushes and other shrubs - these were full of butterflies whose habitat is often woodland fringe


Comma are butterflies that you see in flight in July; but they are one of the only UK butterflies that can hibernate in adult form through the winter. When their wings are closed they look leaves, for camouflage from predators

The species has a flexible life cycle, which allows it to capitalize on favourable weather conditions. However, the most remarkable feature of the Comma has been its severe decline in the twentieth century and subsequent comeback. It is now widespread in southern Britain and its range is expanding northwards. Comma | Butterfly Conservation (

Small White

A Comma behind a leaf

Silver-Washed Fritillary

The swooping flight of this large and graceful butterfly is one of the most beautiful sights to be found in woodland during high summer. A large fast flying butterfly, separated from other fritillaries by its pointed wings and silver streaks on the undersides which can be viewed as it stops to feed on flowers such as Bramble.

Although the butterfly is seen mostly in sunny glades and rides, it actually breeds in the shadier parts of adjacent woodland. In southern England, a small proportion of females have wings that are bronze-green, known as the form valezina.

The Silver-washed Fritillary declined during the twentieth century, especially in England and Wales, but has spread noticeably during recent decades. Widespread across southern England and Wales and more locally in northern England and Ireland. Silver-washed Fritillary | Butterfly Conservation (

Silver-washed Fritillaries are butterflies of July and August

Another Comma

A Large White

Denbies Hillside

Although Denbies Hillside advertised its Adonis Blues; I had come to see Chalkhill Blues

Steers Field

Chalkhill Blue on Marjoram (one of the plants that I saw them on commonest frequently in Steers field)

A small, widespread butterfly that occasionally visits gardens. Females are similar to Brown Argus, which lack blue dusting near the body, and to female Adonis Blue, which have dark veins extending into white fringe on wing edges. The male Chalk Hill Blue is paler and, apart from the Large Blue, larger than other blue butterflies seen in Britain and Ireland.

At some sites many hundreds may be seen in August, flying just above the vegetation, searching for females. Large numbers of males may also congregate on animal dung and other sources of moisture and minerals. Females are much less conspicuous, being duller in colour, more secretive in their habits, and spending less time than the males in flight.

The butterfly is confined to calcareous grassland in southern England and has declined in some areas during recent decades. Chalk Hill Blue | Butterfly Conservation (

Marbled White

Chalkhill Blue

A butterfly of mid July, August and early September

A path through Steers Field

A Ringlet on Bramble on the fringes of the wood at the bottom of Steers Field

Ringlets are Butterflies of July and early August. Lifecycle form Ringlet | Butterfly Conservation (

Chalkhill Blue


Marbled White in Knapweed

Chalkhill Blue


Chalkhill Blue on Marjoram

Chalkhill Blue on Marjoram

Chalkhill Blue on Knapweed


Dark Green Fritillary

This large and powerful butterfly is one of our most widespread fritillaries and can be seen flying rapidly in a range of open sunny habitats. The males look similar to the High Brown Fritillary, which is far rarer but sometimes flies with them on bracken-covered hillsides. The two can be distinguished from the underwing markings, visible when they are feeding on flowers such as thistles.

The Dark Green Fritillary has declined in parts of central and eastern England but remains locally abundant in western England, around the coast of Wales and in Scotland. Dark Green Fritillary | Butterfly Conservation (

A Butterfly that appears in late June, July and Augist

Small White on Knapweed

Small (or Essex) Skipper on Knapweed

Bright orange-brown wings held with forewings angled above hind wings. Males have a thin black line through the centre of fore-wing. Essex Skipper is similar but has black tips to the antenna (best-viewed head-on) and shorter scent brand which runs parallel to forewing edge rather than angled.

Small Skippers are insects of high summer. Although they spend much of their time basking or resting among vegetation, they are marvellous flyers, manoeuvring expertly through tall grass stems. It is these darting flights, wings glinting golden-brown in the sunlight, that normally alert an observer to their presence. Closer examination will reveal many more individuals nectaring or basking with their wings held in the half-open posture distinctive of skipper butterflies. The butterfly is widespread in southern Britain and its range has expanded northwards in recent years. Small Skipper | Butterfly Conservation (

A Butterfly of mid June to mid August

Ranmore Common

The first Butterfly I saw on my walk through Ranmore Common was a Sliver-Washed Fritillary

and next I saw a glorious Green-Veined White

Buff-tailed Bumblebee on Sear Thistle

A Comma pretending to be a leaf with an eye

And I saw some White Admirals high up in the trees.

This butterfly is widespread in southern England, extending just into Wales and northwards. It has white-banded black wings and a distinctive delicate flight, which has short periods of wing beats followed by long glides. It could be confused with the larger Purple Emperor.

Adults are often found nectaring on Bramble flowers in rides and clearings. It is a fairly shade-tolerant butterfly, flying in dappled sunlight to lay eggs on Honeysuckle.

The White Admiral occurs widely in southern Britain and has spread rapidly since the 1920s, after an earlier contraction. However, population monitoring has shown a dramatic decline in the last 20 years, for reasons that are as yet unclear. White Admiral | Butterfly Conservation (

The trees in which I saw the White Admirals

A Butterfly you are most likely to see in July

Path back to the North Downs Way

A Meadow Brown on the path; I saw lots of Meadow Browns - but it is their time, and they are one of the UK's most abundant nutterflies

The North Downs Way, back to Box Hill Station

White-Tailed Bumblebee of the path

Looking over to Box Hill

A very docile Bank Vole; Bank Voles are typically very skittish; but this one let me watch is wash and brush-up regime

The bank vole lives in woodland, hedgerows, parks and gardens. It eats fruit, nuts and small insects, but is particularly keen on hazelnuts and blackberries. Bank voles are very active and agile animals, and are frequently seen - they even visit bird tables. They live in shallow burrows, but may make grassy, round nests above ground if the soil is unsuitable for digging. They have three or four litters a year, each with three to five young. Bank voles do not hibernate. Bank vole | The Wildlife Trusts



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