Purple Emperor now the 37th species in Norfolk
The last known Purple Emperor colony in Norfolk was at Foxley Woods near Bawdeswell (subsequently bought by NWT who have worked hard to restore it as a nature reserve ). Our last formal county record before the Purple Emperor’s extinction was in 1961 at Foxley. It is believed to have died out there in the early 1970s following some adverse woodland habitat management. There are unofficial reports of the felling of its “Master Tree” (used by males to compete for breeding partners I believe) according to County Recorder Andy Brazil the colony was probably destroyed by forestry operations and/or pesticide use, they used crop-sprays by plane against moths and cut down and replaced habitat with conifers.
We’ve now had 8 confirmed records across five different sites this decade and its been seen consistently for the last three years in a row. The Emperor’s first reappearance was actually back in 2011 at Felbrigg Hall (NT). Then in Sheringham Town garden in 2014 and Sheringham Park (NT) consecutively 2016, 2017, 2018, Beeston Common (a SSSI reserve on opposite side of the road) in 2017 and 2018 and lastly Holt Country park in 2018.
Norfolk has 36 resident species of butterfly currently. Now that we’ve had multiple confirmed sightings, three years in a row, all in the same vicinity it seems indicative of residency and they are now believed to have recolonised the area, which was historically part of their UK range. Given the consistency and pattern of the records, our county recorder Andy Brazil has confirmed it will now be added to the county species list, making the Purple Emperor the 37th species listed as currently breeding in the county. (Andy: “I'm happy to count it as a Norfolk species (however it got here). It would be 37th currently breeding in the county.”). Historically we have had 47 butterfly species breeding in the county but no more than 45 at the same time.
Numbers remain extremely low however and the butterfly is notoriously elusive. Sheringham and Beeston, where the past few years’ sightings have been made, are very well visited areas of North Norfolk during the butterflies peak flight time, which is likely why these sightings have happened in that location. Intriguingly, in Norfolk the Purple Emperor’s flight period appears to be several weeks later than that in the Purple Emperors’ current strongholds further south. Last year our very first report was after everyone else's last sighting. We don’t know why this is.
There is much mystery and debate surrounding this elusive butterfly’s reappearance. Some believe it’s a recolonization, some an illicit re-introduction, yet others believe its been here in extremely low densities all along and not been spotted due to its oak canopy-loving habits or else misidentified as a White admiral, which shares the same habitat. The White Admiral is similar in appearance to “A. Iris”, but smaller, lacks the distinctive orange circular markings and the lack the male Emperor’s famous purple iridescent sheen. According to BCS County Recorder Andy “Everything points to a colony in Sheringham slowly spreading out to Beeston and Holt. It might spread to other suitable woodlands over time. As to how it got to Sheringham… there is a history of releases, but it's probably natural - it has been expanding its range, possibly thanks to better wood management.” The Purple Emperor is found in neighbouring Suffolk and Cambridgeshire (Wood Walton Fen). He points out that The White Admiral and Silver-washed Fritillary, also woodland loving species, have both expanded locally over similar timescales.
The best area to spot them is likely to be Beeston common, simply because its less wooded. However, according to Andy “It's also been reported from the Suffolk border and there's a definite possibility of more sightings down there.” Last year’s Holt sighting is also promising. There is a large area of Sallows in one section of the park so breeding habitat does in theory exist.
We really need to find out more about how and where this mysterious butterfly is re-establishing itself in the county and any confirmed sightings would be invaluable in tracking this elusive species recovery progress. Its possible that the Purple Emperor may be gradually starting to recolonise surrounding areas too so it could potentially be found in other suitable Norfolk woodlands (containing a mixture of mature Oak and Sallow) at extremely low densities. In addition to the North Norfolk Coast area, potential areas to search include in Mid and West Norfolk where it was formerly resident and potentially on the Suffolk or Cambridgeshire borders (from the Emperor’s current respective bases in Theberton Woods, Woodwalton Fen) so we need naturalists and walkers alike to be mindful of the possibility, be on the lookout, and help us with the hunt right across the county.
The Purple Emperor holds a uniquely special place in both county and butterfly folklore. After an absence of fifty years, its simply wonderful to this magnificent species resident in the county once again and I only hope it continues to regain its former haunts and goes from strength to strength.
-Andy Brazil, County recorder
-Liz Goodyear’s detailed article on the county (and wider east Anglian) PE history below which mentions earlier one off unconfirmed sightings also in West and Mid-Norfolk (Kings Lynn, Foxley and Dereham area) http://www.dispar.org/reference.php?id=91#Norfolk
-2018 EDP reports
Third consective NT Sheringham sighting https://www.edp24.co.uk/news/environment/rare-butterfly-spotted-at-sheringham-park-in-norfolk-for-third-consecutive-year-1-5631387
-2018 record video:
“The Purple Emperor was seen at approx 10:20 on Wednesday 18th July at Sheringham Park. Footage and copyright Andrew Middleton. Seen by Liz Goodyear and Andrew Middleton. It was seen to fly from the Sallows and alight on an oak tree. The video shows its proboscis probing the leaves for aphid honey-dew. “ https://www.facebook.com/liz.goodyear.5/videos/1795532417196074/?t=37
Cranwich Heath 7th July 2019 Field Trip Report
Sixteen of us gathered at Cranwich Heath on a very pleasant July morning - 20⁰, mostly sunny and a light breeze. There were a lot of butterflies flying near the car park and further up towards the wood – Meadow Brown ,Small Skipper, Small Copper, Small Heath and Ringlet in very large numbers, plus good numbers of Red Admiral, Large and Small White, as well as sightings of Comma, Brimstone, Speckled Wood, Painted Lady and fly-by’s of White Admiral and Silver-washed Fritillary. Sadly, our target species, White-letter Hairstreaks did not seem to have emerged – the Golden Rod on which they usually nectar was not in flower yet. We then moved on to the Heath itself. It was an absolute picture of wild flowers, with Kidney Vetch much in evidence. As well as the usual massive numbers of Meadow Brown, Small Copper and Small Heath we found a very good selection of day-flying moths, notably Brassy Longhorn, Straw-barred Pearl, Oblique Striped, Forester and Five-spot Burnet spp. We owe much thanks to Sue Pennell, whose knowledge of the site and its inhabitants were absolutely invaluable.
Kelling Heath 19th June 2019 Field Trip Report
Ignoring an unpromising weather forecast for Wednesday 19th June, 6 members joined John Wagstaff and myself to look for Silver-studded Blues on Kelling Heath. For once there was little wind, it was overcast but warm, ideal for photographing this species. There were plenty to be seen, either nectaring or basking. We saw mainly males but there were a few females and even some mating pairs. John gave us a very interesting tour, explaining the management regime carried out through the Trustees. The whole heath looked in excellent condition and the butterflies are continuing to spread into new areas. Apparently elsewhere in Norfolk that day there were heavy showers but North Norfolk often has its own microclimate and we were lucky on this occasion
Report by Judy Dunmore
Photos by Derek Longe
World Swallowtail Day at Wheatfen 9th June 2019 Field Trip Report
We thoroughly enjoyed World Swallowtail Day at Wheatfen and meeting the many of you who came along, our BC stand was kept busy chatting to you all! The "Swallowtail meadow" viewing area proved popular with visitors and Swallowtails alike (flower bunches were added due to the Flag Iris being late in its flowering). The Swallowtails were highly active, flying around the area, occasionally coming down to the nectar bait allowing people to get close snaps.
With guided wildlife walks all day and a talk in the Gazebo by our very own Andy Brazil, it really was a day out to remember!
Photos by Derek Longe
Grimes Graves 5 June, Weeting Heath and Cranwich Heath 3rd July Moth events Report
Membership of Butterfly Conservation often entitles you to visit less-known sites where the expectation is for moths to be in the traps which you’re unlikely to get in a trap in your garden. Norfolk Branch of Butterfly Conservation visited Grimes Graves and Weeting Heath in the Norfolk Brecks this week as part of our #mothsmatter efforts this year and were certainly not disappointed. Sharon Hearle from BC had agreed with English Heritage to put out 4 traps at Grimes and Norfolk Wildlife Trust put out their fixed trap at Weeting Heath to be opened later so there was plenty of variety and some very special Breckland moths for the 25 or so who attended. We had several Cream-spot Tiger moths and a couple of Reddish Light Arches at Grimes, with several Clouded Buffs and Pale Oak Beautys at Weeting, shown below in that order. We rounded off the day with a very special trip to Cranwich Heath, of which more elsewhere no doubt.
Photos by Greg Bond
Horsey Gap Walk 2nd August 2018 Field Trip Report
Believe it or not another hot and sunny day, A pleasant gentle breeze from the north made it bearable.
Eleven of us met in the car-park for this penultimate walk of the season. We found 17 different species in total , seven of them before we left the car-park.
To my relief ,there were still plenty of dark green fritillaries around and the graylings put in an appearance, so the target species were found. Another most enjoyable
Regards Ann Carpenter
- Dark Green Fritillary
Today 2nd August 29018 we did the timed count at Warham. The weather was excellent although photographers would have struggled to get pictures as they were very mobile. We counted 570 in all, up from the poor counts of 158 last year and 247 in 2016 – although the weather both those years was not ideal.
Pigney’s Wood on 25th July 2018 Field Trip Report
Hot and sunny, but a pleasant breeze got up. 12 of us met to explore this NWT site. A delightful walk through woodland, round the meadow, across the heath and back along the canal. We found 15 different species of butterfly, the most numerous being the large white!. We also saw several purple hairstreaks, which we watched for some time hoping for that photo opportunity. Our thanks to Stephanie Witham for showing us round this Norfolk Wildlife site Gem.
2 Common Blue
3 Holly Blue
Bradfield Woods 29 July 2018 Field Trip Report
Six people met in the car-park of Bradfield Woods. It was sunny but with a strong North Wind blowing. Not a good start to the day. Well how wrong you can be, along the sheltered but sunny rides we found our first White admirals and Silver washed fritillaries of the year. Also good numbers of large skippers, speckled woods, Meadow browns and a comma. A perfect outcome after all. Thank you Suffolk Wildlife Trust.
Foxley Wood 22nd July 2018 Field Trip Report
Following a very successful moth trapping session in Foxley Wood, 16 of us set off with Daniel Maidstone, the warden, in search of butterflies. Unfortunately the weather was dull and overcast and a bit cool and windy. There were plenty of ringlets, meadow browns and skippers about and we did see our target species, silver washed fritillary and white admiral but photo opportunities were very limited. We saw 9 different species in total and were very grateful to Daniel for showing us round the wood.
Beeston Common 22nd July 2018 Field Trip Report
8 people joined the walk on Beeston Common on 14-7-18. It was a very warm, sunny day and once again we were lucky enough to have Francis Farrow to show us around. The common looked very green not like our parched lawns and roadsides and we saw marsh fragrant orchids, common spotted orchids and marsh helleborines. The butterflies were very busy with a preponderance of large whites. Once again photos were difficult, as nothing wanted to settle, but we saw 17 different species including silver washed fritillaries. Our thanks once again to Francis for giving us his time.
Buxton Heath June 27th 2018 Field Trip Report
24 people at Buxton. Lovely sunny morning and the heath looked great. Silver Studded blues seemed to be everywhere we looked. 11 different species of butterflies seen altogether.
ButterflyAlert No 8 June 23rd
Currently reported this year from Norfolk are Dingy Skipper, Grizzled Skipper, Large Skipper, Small Skipper, Swallowtail, Brimstone, Large, Small and Green-veined White, Orange Tip, Holly Blue, Silver-studded Blue, Green, White-letter and Purple Hairstreaks, Brown Argus, Common Blue, Small Copper, Dark-Green and Silver-washed Fritillary, White Admiral, Red Admiral, Painted Lady, Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell, Comma, Speckled Wood, Meadow Brown, Ringlet, Small Heath
In other news
Dragonflies reported flying in Norfolk
Large Red, Red-eyed, Common and Scarce Emerald, Common Blue, Blue-tailed, Azure and Variable damselflies, Banded Demoiselle, Hairy dragonfly, Emperor, Four-Spotted, Scarce and Broad-bodied Chasers, Black-tailed Skimmer, Southern, Brown and Norfolk Hawker and Common Darter.
As usual all reports gratefully received.(and many thanks to those who've
let me know what they're seeing)
Bradfield Woods 21June18 Field Trip Report
Six people met in the car-park of Bradfield Woods. It was sunny but with a strong North Wind blowing. Not a good start to the day. Well how wrong you can be,
along the sheltered but sunny rides we found our first White admirals and Silver washed fritillaries of the year, Also good numbers of large skippers, speckled woods,
Meadow browns and a comma. A perfect outcome after all. Thank you Suffolk Wildlife Trust.
Report and photos from Ann Carpenter
Beeston Common 17th June 2017 Report
A very pleasant day with lots of sun and light wind. 18 people attended the walk. Francis Farrow kindly led us round as it is his patch.
The common is a very impressive place. Francis explained how it had developed through the years.
The following butterflies were seen. Ringlet, Meadow Brown, Small tortoiseshell, Red admiral, Large white, Large skipper, Small skipper, Painted lady, Speckled wood, Comma, Small copper.
The following dragonflies were also seen. Four spot chaser, Emperor, Broad bodied chaser, Keeled skimmer. Also Azure, Blue tail, Large red, Common blue damselflies.
There were many orchids growing in some profusion. The following were noted. Common spotted, Fragrant, Common Twayblade, Bee, Lesser butterfly, Helleborine.
The group all expressed their pleasure at what they had seen.
Report by Bob Carpenter
Photos by Anne Edwards