British butterflies - a macro photography art and information guide - Katey Jane Photography

Welcome to my world of butterflies, a professional photographer with a lifelong passion for nature and wildlife. Through my lifetime I have seen nature decline slowly, from birds through to insects in the Cambridgeshire Fens. It's often stated that insects are a great guild to the health of the countryside and if that's the case the Fens should be on life support. The Fens is the breadbasket of the UK with most of the countryside taken up by farming and I see a number of problems that could be changed to help the nature here.

• crop-spraying • grass verges cut  • river banks cut • No areas set aside for nature whatsoever.

The issues, fields for sprayed and often and the only parts of the countryside here that will have wildflowers will be the grass verges and ditches, the spray ends up on the verges then soon after the verges are cut, this removes the only food for insects, (also many birds need insects to feed on but sadly this has affected the birds too), so it comes down to the ditches but these too are cut and what's left is dead grasses and a lifeless area.

The rivers or drains are all designed to drain the Fens but for some strange reason trees and grasses are cut like you would your lawns at home, this has caused the rivers to be bird free, of course the grass grows, you get dragonflies, butterflies and odd birds but on such a small scale you would think they almost extent.

To change the Fens people needs to change and sadly I can't ever see this happening, I have made a nature garden and it's helping so many bugs, (see below)

It takes months to get some photos, the hard part is finding the butterflies, the small heath, I've seen just one in 4 years so just one photo and it states they common!

Why am I doing this you ask, for one I care about nature and to prove you don't need to be a David Attenborough and an expert in the field of nature, all you need is some drive to want to help these creatures. Often when at craft fairs with my photography prints I will often chat with people around nature and they often take notice.

I would love to see a more user-based info system like the insect week but a constant update system. this year 2018 I hope this hot weather will help some insect bounce back.

The info for each butterfly gives you an idea of what types of flowers and plants they need.



Gonepteryx rhamni

60mm wingspan

One of the first to be seen when spring breaks, they can be seen in woods and forests but seems to be struggling to find any flowers. a great time to photograph them when you have sunny days with patchy clouds, you know those day's the sun is warm until a cloud covers the sun, then suddenly it's chilly, that's the time to try for these wonderful butterflies, they will often find somewhere to rest and wait for the sun to shine again.


The wings of the female are pale green, can almost white sometimes, males have yellow-green underwings and yellow upper wings.

The larvae

Feed on leaves of Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica) and Alder Buckthorn (Frangula alnus).

Where to look

Can be found in scrubby grassland and woodlands. The butterfly ranges widely and can often be seen flying along roadside verges and hedgerows.


Polygonia c-album

55-60mm wingspan

Another springtime butterfly but one that can be seen throughout the year, this one was taken late in the year and was the last butterfly of the year, with a lack of flowers to feed on this comma found blackberries. The Comma is an interesting butterfly. with its crazy shape and can almost blend in with dead leaves.

My findings on which flowers they link to feed on. Black-eyed Susan, a common garden flower, blackberry flowers and sometimes tree sap, I have seen a number of commas feeding on silver birch tree sap.

Caterpillar Foodplants

The most widely used foodplant is Common Nettle (Urtica dioica). Other species used include Hop (Humulus lupulus), elms (Ulmus spp.), currants (Ribes spp.), and Willows (Salix spp).

HabitatOpen woodland, around ferns often and will seek sunny patches, can be seen almost anywhere. 


Holly Blue

Holly Blue

Celastrina argiolus

35mm wingspan

Sadly the only blue butterflies I have seen, these are often seen in early spring, the Wings are bright blue. Females have black wing edges.  they seem to fly around hedges (but this may be Fenland countryside issue, there's hardly any trees), for its size it's a strong flyer. 

New photo to right-hand side shows one feeding from the mud, it's known as mud pudding or just pudding, drinking to find nutrients, minerals and salts.

Caterpillar Foodplants

The larvae feed predominantly on the flower buds, berries and terminal leaves of Holly (Ilex aquifolium) and Ivy (Hedera helix).  (Euonymus europaeus), dogwoods (Cornus spp.), snowberries (Symphoricarpos spp), gorses (Ulex spp.), also (Rubus fruticosus).

Green-veined White

Pieris napi

50mm wingspan

A range of wild crucifers is used: Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata), Cuckoo flower (Cardamine pratensis), Hedge Mustard (Sisymbrium officinale) Water- cress (Rorippa nasturtium-aquaticum), Charlock (Sinapis arvensis), Large Bitter-cress (C. amara), Wild Cabbage (Brassica oleracea), and Wild Radish (Raphanus raphanistrum). Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus) and cultivated crucifers are used occasionally.

A very common butterfly likes damp areas and lots of vegetation, it can be found anywhere, river banks, woods, open spaces, this is the most seen butterfly within our nature garden.

Food plant for the butterfly

Coastline marsh, drinking from the mud (maybe seeking salt), Sea lavender, a salt-loving plant, seen on salt marshes. Ragwort (Senecio jacobaea) and many other flowers.

Green-veined White



Anthocharis cardamines

45-50mm wingspan

It states a common and widespread butterfly but now in my neck of the woods, sightings are a handful per year with 2018 being the worse yet. It can be found in gardens and along hedgerows. The males are unmistakable, they are white with bright orange wing tips. The females are white with black wing tips. Both have mottled green underwings. Over the years I have been interested in these insects, I have noticed they tend to only feed on the Cuckoo Flower (Cardamine pratensis), I have never seen this flower in the Cambridgeshire Fens where I'm from and when spotting these butterflies on rare occasions I will follow them as much as I can, they will bypass every flower, if the cuckoo flower is their only food plant then I can see why these are struggling here. I once lived in Bedfordshire and found some local lakes and low and behold cuckoo flowers and along with these flowers was the wonderful orange tip, the photo above if one feeding on the right flower. I have looked for many months for these flowers and still no luck.

Caterpillar Foodplants

Several crucifers are used, especially Cuckooflower (Cardamine pratensis) in damp meadows and Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) along road verges and ditches. Occasionally, it uses Hedge Mustard (Sisymbrium officinale), Winter-cress (Barbarea vulgaris), Turnip (Brassica rapa), Charlock (Sinapis avensis), Large Bitter-cress (C. amara), and Hairy Rock-cress (Arbis hirsuta).


Orange-tips prefer damp habitats such as meadows, woodland glades, hedgerows and the banks of streams and rivers, here in the Fens they are seen in the open countryside and will visit gardens but again the Fens will be the only place for wildflowers mostly.

Large Skipper

Ochlodes sylvanus

33-35mm wingspan

Male Large Skippers will search out a sunny place then rest where they will wait for passing females but will mistake flies and other insects too, it's funny to watch! Females are less conspicuous, both males and females will feed on thistles and you may see a number on one flower, you be shocked just how many can fit on one flower! they state Brambles being most popular but what I have seen is the thistle attracting more. Males have a thick black line through the centre of the forewing. Undersides have orange spots or patches. 

Butterfly food plant

Thistles, brambles.

Caterpillar Foodplant

Cock’s-foot (Dactylis glomerata), Purple Moor-grass seems popular in the Fens,  (Molinia caerulea) and False Brome (Brachypodium sylvaticum), Wood Small-reed (Calamagrostis epigejos).

Large Skipper

Meadow Brown

Meadow Brown

Maniola jurtina

30mm wingspan

The Meadow Brown is the most common and even here in the Fens there will be large numbers, mostly all arguing over one flower. can be seen out in the countryside, river banks and gardens, forest and woodlands.

Caterpillar Foodplants

Grasses and plants fescues (Festuca spp.), Cock's foot (Dactylis glomerata), Downy Oat grass (Helictotrichon pubescens)


Aglais io

67-72mm wingspan

A large and strong-flying butterfly and common in gardens. it's seen feeding on a number of flowers and I have seen these in town centres feeding on the pots, simply if you have some form of flowers they may well show up. have seen them feeding on mud from puddles, maybe looking for salts and minerals.  

Caterpillar Foodplants

Foodplants are Common Nettle (Urtica dioica). 


Peacock butterfly (Aglais io) British nature & insects framed prints, photo mounts

Red Admiral

Red Admiral

Vanessa atalanta

67-72mm wingspan

A large and strong-flying butterfly and common in gardens. This familiar and distinctive insect may be found anywhere in Britain and Ireland and in all habitat types. Starting each spring and continuing through the summer there are northward migrations, which are variable in extent and timing, from North Africa and continental Europe. The immigrant females lay eggs and consequently there is an emergence of fresh butterflies, from about July onwards. They continue flying into October or November and are typically seen nectaring on garden buddleias or flowering Ivy and on rotting fruit. There is an indication that numbers have increased in recent years and that overwintering has occurred in the far south of England.

Caterpillar Foodplants In Britain and Ireland the most important and widely available larval foodplant is Common Nettle (Urtica dioica). However, Small Nettle (U. urens) and the related species, Pellitory-of-the-wall (Parietaria judaica) and Hop (Humulus lupulus) may also be used.


Aphantopus hyperantus

48-52mm wingspan

A butterfly that's seen in open grassland, woodlands and forests, along river banks, roadsides but in the Fens yet again a rare sight, haven't seen any this year but have seen a few along the marsh wash nature reserve Lincolnshire, they seem to be in patches here like many most of the nature here.

Caterpillar Foodplants

Coarser grasses are used, including Cock's-foot (Dactylis glomerata), False Brome (Brachypodium sylvaticum), Tufted Hair-grass (Deschampsia cespitosa), Common Couch (Elytrigia repens), and meadow-grasses (Poa spp.). 


Small Copper

Small Copper

Lycaena phlaeas

32-35mm wingspan 

A stunning butterfly and one that's getting harder to find, with just 2 seen in 2017 and none this year so far. They tend to be around woodlands and forests, also in open meadows ( if you can find a meadow), also seen on ferns and will rest in the undergrowth, they are late flyers too, have seen these in September. 

Caterpillar Food plants

Common Sorrel (Rumex acetosa) and Sheep's Sorrel (R. acetosella) are the main foodplants. Broad-leaved Dock (R. obtusifolius) may be occasionally used.

Small Heath

Coenonympha pamphilus

34-38mm wingspan 

Wow one rare butterfly for me

Not sure what I can say about this butterfly, seen one once, in windy weather, it landed at my feet, I managed the one photo. I have read these are somewhat common but if these are common then I'm blind. as with all my butterflies, I will update when I find more.

Caterpillar Foodplants

Fine grasses, especially fescues (Festuca spp.), meadow-grasses (Poa spp.), and bents (Agrostis spp.).

Habitat Occurs on grassland where there are fine grasses, especially in dry, well-drained situations where the sward is short and sparse. Typical habitats include; heathland, downland and coastal dunes, but it is also found on road verges, moorland and in woodland rides.

Small Heath

Small Skipper

Small Skipper

Thymelicus sylvestris

30mm wingspan

Bright orange-brown wings held with forewings angled above hind wings. Males have a thin black line through centre of fore-wing, they are experts at darting through grasses and will rest in stems of grass, often seen in small groups. the coastlines of Norfolk seems to be the places for these colourful critters.

Seems very common along the nene river near the Lincolnshire wash marsh.

Butterfly food plant.

Thistles, large and small, sea lavender

Caterpillar Foodplants

Yorkshire-fog (Holcus lanatus), although several other grasses have been recorded as foodplants, for example Timothy (Phleum pratense), Creeping Soft-grass (H.mollis), False Brome (Brachypodium sylvaticum), Meadow Foxtail (Alopecurus pratensis), and Cock’s-foot (Dactylis glomerata).

Speckled Wood

Pararge aegeria

47-50mm wingspan

Often seen in woodlands, I have seen these under oak trees and the males tend to keep to one patch, they will stake this out as a territory, will wait for females to pass, you can get very close to these butterflies, if you scare them away they will soon come back. I tend not to see any of these in the Fens, maybe 3-5 per year.

Caterpillar Foodplants

False Brome (Brachypodium sylvaticum) Cock's-foot (Dactylis glomerata) Yorkshire-fog (Holcus lanatus) Common Couch (Elytrigia repens).

Speckled Wood

Small Tortoiseshell

Small Tortoiseshell

Aglais urticae

50-56mm wingspan

The Small Tortoiseshell is among the most well-known butterflies in the UK. With it's stunning and patterns and colours, as stated these are a popular site but again in the Fens we are hardly seeing any. 

Butterfly foo plant

Seen feeding on sea lavender on coastlines

Caterpillar Foodplants

Common Nettle (Urtica dioica) and Small Nettle (U. urens) are used.

Female Common Blue

Common Blue

Polyommatus icarus

Wing Span, both sexes 35mm

The most common blue butterfly in the UK, well I'm not so sure about that, This stunning butterfly was taken in our garden (Cambridgeshire Fens) village last week 16/06/2018, this is the second only to be seen here in 46 years of living here. I do know the Fens has no form of butterfly, moth or insects records, people just can't be bothered about nature here, too lazy, I'm being to the point due to how badly nature is suffering here.

Easy to sex, females are brown inside the wings. be gentle and they are great to photograph.

Foodplants for caterpillars.

Common Bird' s-foot-trefoil is the main foodplant. Other plants used include Greater Bird's-foot-trefoil, Black Medick, Common Restharrow,   White Clover, Lesser Trefoil.

Would like to add foodplants for the butterflies but sadly seeing just two does help that much.

But it was seen feeding for a good time on a common sunflower (Helianthus annuus) black eye Susan  (Rudbeckia hirta) (shown with butterfly feeding)

The home made nature garden

Building a nature garden click here to see our nature garden can be a fun and cheap thing to do, our cost just £20 odd with a small pond, it's been a two-year job and the work hasn't been hard, the insects are using this garden like a BP petrol station along a motorway haha.

As I find more butterflies I will always add to this page.