Liza Cole, Property Manager / Senior Ranger Naturalist for St Abbs Head National Nature Reserve, National Trust for Scotland, St Abbs Head, South East Scotland, November 2017
Liza Cole, Property Manager / Senior Ranger Naturalist for St Abbs Head National Nature Reserve, National Trust for Scotland, St Abbs Head, South East Scotland, November 2017

Five great places to spot the Painted Lady invasion

Nature lovers across the country are gearing up for a once-a-decade treat as summer draws to a close, with large clouds of Painted Lady butterflies fluttering through Scotland.

The typical wet, Scottish summer has provided the perfect environment for the speckled, burnt-orange coloured creatures – it’s even anticipated the numbers could be higher this year than the last massive influx which hit the country 10 years ago.

With around 11 million of the butterflies being spotted in the UK in 2009, experts are calling this
once-a-decade phenomenon a ‘mass emergence’.

Migrating from Africa and making the journey north, the Painted Lady – with its gorgeous, detailed wings – can cover up to 100 miles each day on this voyage.

National Trust for Scotland staff have recorded numerous sightings at its properties around the country. Observing this once-in-a-decade wildlife explosion in some of Scotland’s most beautiful destinations makes for the perfect day out before the summer ends.

Here’s our top five flutterly amazing spots in the care of the National Trust for Scotland for spotting the Painted Lady and other beautiful butterflies…

1. St Abbs Head National Nature Reserve, Berwickshire

Visitors to St Abbs Head can soak up impressive sea views and immerse themselves in the diverse Scottish wildlife all around – swans, ducks, damselflies and of course, butterflies galore.

This rugged piece of Scottish coastline feels like the complete wilderness, yet is just tucked off and
easily accessible from the A1. The head of this breath-taking nature reserve sits on dramatic cliffs, surrounded by crystal clear crashing water and under the noise of squawking seabirds.

Away from the cliff’s edge sits a tapestry of wildflowers and the perfect picnic spot, with everything from rock rose, sea pinks and wild thyme to purple milk vetch – it’s no wonder caterpillars and butterflies flourish here. This is a truly beautiful place to relax and appreciate one of Scotland’s most beautiful coastal landscapes, surrounded by the gorgeous Painted Lady and other species of butterflies.

2. Ben Lawers, Perthshire

This spectacular natural reserve counts the highest mountain in the central Highlands and is home to the most celebrated collection of rare mountain plants in Britain, making it an ideal place for Painted Lady butterflies. With seven munros overlooking Loch Tay, this is an awe-inspiring destination for nature-lovers to discover.

Sarah Watts, ecologist at Ben Lawers said: ‘There have been hundreds of Painted Lady butterflies on the Ben Lawers this summer, given our florally rich hillside. We are renowned for our diverse wildflowers – including several species of thistles which the Painted Lady feeds on.

‘Ben Lawers is home to many other butterflies, such as the Mountain Ringlet, and spotting them makes for an exciting day out in nature. This is my 10th season at Ben Lawers and I’ve never witnessed anything approaching the numbers of Painted Lady butterflies about this year. I’ve even seen them flying over the mountain’s summit.’

3. The Hill House, Helensburgh

Overlooking the Firth of Clyde, Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s The Hill House features spectacular interior design and architecture. It’s widely considered his domestic masterpiece, exuding ‘Glasgow style’ and is currently veiled in a chainmail mesh to protect it from the elements. Outside, the sprawling gardens are just as impressive and brimming with Painted Lady butterflies for visitors to marvel at, along with a host of other species.

Gavin Smith, first gardener at The Hill House for over 30 years, said: ‘It’s an amazing thing to see – you can just turn around and be surrounded by these wonderful butterflies. Here at The Hill House, the painted ladies have loved the wildflower area as well as the buddleia bushes and herbaceous borders. There’s just so many more than usual in summertime – it’s spectacular to see.’

4. Glencoe, The Highlands

The dramatic landscapes of Glencoe are some of Scotland’s most famous. Teeming with history and a dark past, these breath-taking surroundings have some new visitors this summer.

The mild climate and soft rain means that the diverse wildflowers have a very long flowering period. As a result, they continue to bloom for much longer than those further south, often wilting long before. Glencoe is therefore the ideal destination for Painted Lady spotting as the summer closes and the autumn
creeps in.

5. Inverewe Gardens, The Highlands

A father and daughter duo started this garden on the north Atlantic coast and nurtured an exotic and breath-taking paradise. Set on the edge of the Wester Ross mountains and not far from the stunning Loch Ewe, this stretch of coastline is filled with colourful flowers and unusual plants, making it a haven for Painted Lady butterflies.

With gorgeous views of the sea, visitors can spot other unique Scottish wildlife too, from red squirrels, to red deers, seas, and otters.

Kevin Frediani, operations manager at Inverewe Gardens in the Highlands, said: ‘The science behind their migration is fascinating. Painted Lady butterflies are a normal sight in Britain during the summer months and frequently seen here at Inverewe in July and August, but once every decade the UK experiences a huge influx from Europe and this year looks like one of those years.’

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