Scarce Tortoiseshell - Adam Gor

A European butterfly which made news headlines last month for being the first on record to survive a British winter has now emerged in Cambridgeshire, Butterfly Conservation can reveal.

A sighting of the Scarce Tortoiseshell, also known as the Yellow-legged Tortoiseshell, was submitted to the wildlife charity’s Cambridgeshire and Essex Branch on Saturday 21 March.

Branch Recorder, Louise Bacon, said: “The butterfly was seen at the Fowlmere RSPB Reserve where it was settling for long periods, allowing the man who spotted it to get a great photo. In the shot the wings are very worn, which clearly show that this is not a fresh visitor, but one which has emerged from hibernation.

“This is the 2nd ever sighting of the butterfly in Cambridgeshire, but more significantly this is the first time one has survived hibernation to emerge in this area.”

The Scarce Tortoiseshell, Nymphalis xanthomelas, is so incredibly rare in the UK that until last year there was just one previous wild record from 1953 - a single female seen in West Kent.

More than 60 years later and after several sightings throughout the country last July - including one in Cambridgeshire – the butterfly was spotted in Norfolk on Thursday 12 March.

Butterfly Conservation’s Head of Monitoring, Dr Tom Brereton, said: “It was a truly historic event as it marked the first time this stunning butterfly has ever overwintered successfully in Britain.

“Since then there have been further sightings in Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and just this week one was seen in Sussex. The more that emerge from hibernation, the more likely it is that some will mate and then we would see the first UK-born Scarce Tortoiseshells on record.”

The Scarce Tortoiseshell is very similar in appearance to the much-loved garden favourite, the Small Tortoiseshell. This butterfly has brown legs and a white patch on the top corner of the upper forewings. The Scarce Tortoiseshell has yellow or straw-coloured legs and a yellow patch on its upper forewing instead of a white marking. Scarce Tortoiseshell butterfly by Chris Van Swaay

If you think you have seen a Scarce Tortoiseshell, please email Butterfly Conservation’s Head of Surveys, Richard Fox at @email

If you live in the Cambridgeshire area and would like to report any butterfly sightings, you can visit their website.