Related links: Butterfly Conservation Devon Moth Group

Dawlish Warren does not hold any of the rarer British breeding species which may be found elsewhere in Devon, but at least 37 species have been recorded (with two or three others thought to probably be the result of deliberate introductions, either on site or elsewhere). This figure includes most of the more widespread species found in the southwest. However at least five species have become extinct here over the years, mostly before the site was designated.

In recent years the majority of butterfly species present on site have been in decline. Unfortunately regular transect monitoring was stopped in the mid 1990s and changes in population since then have only been noted on an ad hoc basis. Several factors may have contributed to these declines; population fluctuations, changes in vegetation structure, management and local climate.

Last updated 17/09/21


Small Skipper Thymelicus sylvestris

A formerly common resident, this grass feeding species is now seen in much lower numbers than previously, although annual populations are prone to fluctuation. Despite searching the similar Essex and Lulworth Skippers which have occurred in East Devon have not been recorded.

(c) Alan Keatley

Large Skipper
Ochlodes venata

This butterfly has a similar status to the above species, also requiring areas of uncut grass, it is however usually present in greater numbers, but has undergone recent declines.

(c) Lee Collins

Grizzled Skipper
Pyrgus malvae

Former resident, last recorded in 1956.

Papilio machaon
One was reported in the Buffer Zone on 17th July 2006, a period of high migrant activity and in line with other recent county records. However those records are now known to be deliberate releases and the same apply to this record.]


Clouded Yellow Colias croceus

This migrant from continental Europe is recorded in most years, but in widely fluctuating numbers. In good years, small numbers of the pale form helica are often recorded.

(c) Simon Thurgood

Gonepteryx rhamni

A widespread species in Devon, there have only been a handful of records on the Warren, mostly from the early autumn. From 2010 this species has been increasingly recorded in spring and autumn. Although the foodplant, Alder Buckthorn, was discovered on site recently, there is no evidence of breeding.

(c) Alan Keatley

Large White Pieris brassicae

A common species on site occurring as both a resident and a migrant.

(c) Alan Keatley

Small White
Pieris rapae

Another resident species, which also is recorded as a migrant.

(c) Alan Keatley

Green-veined White
Pieris napi

A common resident.

(c) Simon Thurgood

Anthocharis cardamines

A common resident with fluctuating numbers, currently at a very low ebb but with a slight recent improvement. Cuckooflower is the larval foodplant at the Warren but has much declined as it is often mown denying eggs and larvae have a chance to develop.

(c) Lee Summersby


Green Hairstreak Callophrys rubi

This species was previously present but had not been recorded since 1992. It feeds on a variety of plants including Gorse, so reasons for this decline are unclear. A single in the Back Meadow on 21st May 2005, was the first record for 13 years, one was next recorded on 8th May 2007. However with at least six individuals in 2008 it was thought to be re-establishing itself on the Warren. It however remains rare and two in 2018 were the first for several years.

(c) Simon Thurgood

Purple Hairstreak
Quercusia quercus

This species occurs in nearby woodland and there is a record prior to 1980 but with no details. The second site record was of two around mature oaks on 5th August 2018, followed by a third record on 27th July 2019. Possibly breeding on the Golf Course.

(c) Luke Harman

White-letter Hairstreak
Satyrium w-album

Rare vagrant. One was reported on 31st July 1980.

Small Copper
Lycaena phlaeas

A common resident with three broods in most years. In warm summers several individuals can be recorded with blue in the upper hindwing, a potential identification pitfall.

Long-tailed Blue
Lampides boeticus

The first Recording Area record of this rare continental migrant was a male seen well near the Visitor Centre on 25th August 2006.

[Small Blue Cupido minimus
A single was photographed behind the Visitor Centre in early August 2006, presumably a migrant, this was the first site record. A second individual was seen along the Back Path on 16th May 2007.] These individuals are now thought to be the result of deliberate illegal introductions.

Silver-studded Blue Plebejus argus spp. argus

This scarce species breeds on some areas of Devon Heathland, but rarely wanders far. The only record here was a female taken by W.A. Eley on 29th August 1981. The specimen is now in the Clifton Park Museum, Rotherham.

Brown Argus Aricia a. agestis

Although reported in 1989, this species was not found again until the late 1990s. It is now present as a breeding species on site, especially around Greenland Lake and Warren Point.

(c) Alan Keatley

Common Blue
Polyommatus icarus spp. icarus

A widespread species, which can be found in good numbers on the Warren, especially in Greenland Lake and the Back Meadow.

(c) Alan Keatley

Holly Blue
Celastrina argiolus

Recorded regularly on the Warren, but in much lower numbers than the previous species. First confirmed breeding in 2018.

(c) Simon Thurgood


White Admiral Limenitis camilla

The first Warren record was of one in Dead Dolphin Wood on 14th July 2006. This was closely followed by one seen along the Dune Ridge on 8th July 2007. However the very similar Southern White Admiral had been illegally released at several south Devon sites.

Red Admiral Vanessa atalanta

An annual migrant in varying numbers. In the late autumn can be seen feeding on areas of late flowering Ivy.

(c) Alan Keatley

Painted Lady
Cynthia cardui

Another annual migrant, which can appear in huge numbers. Along with the above species it is often recorded feeding on Buddleia.

Small Tortoiseshell
Aglais urticae

This species has rapidly declined on site, in line with large parts of the UK. Although prone to fluctuations, there were just three records in 2018-19. It can also occurs as a migrant.

(c) Pearl Summersby

Large Tortoiseshell
Nymphalis polychloros

The first record of this rare migrant was in a clearing near the First Pond on 1st July 2007. The second was in Greenland Lake on 3rd April 2008, with the third in the Buffer Zone on 23 March 2011 and perhaps the same on 2nd April. The most recent was near the Visitor Centre on 2nd July 2018.

(c) Simon Thurgood

Camberwell Beauty
Nymphalis antiopa

This rare migrant has been seen twice in the recording area, on 26th July 1982 and 3rd August 2010.

Inachis io

A common resident and migrant.

(c) Alan Keatley

Polygonia c-album

This widespread species is recorded annually in small numbers, although records have increased in recent years, especially in autumn.


Dark Green Fritillary Argynnis aglaja

Former resident? Recorded before 1960. One on 11th August 2012 was therefore the first record for over 50 years. The only other record was on 16th July 2021, however an unidentified fritillary in July 2017 was also considered to be this species.

Silver-washed Fritillary
Argynnis paphia

The first record was an individual around Dead Dolphin Wood on 4-10th August 2010. Further records followed on 22nd August 2013 (2), 25th June and 4th August 2018 (2) and 30th July 2020.

(c) Simon Thurgood


Speckled Wood Pararge aegaria

A common resident, found mainly along rides in the Entrance Bushes and Dead Dolphin Wood.

(c) Simon Thurgood

Wall Brown
Lasiommata mergera

An uncommon resident on site, most often recorded along the Dune Ridge. A noticeable increase in numbers in 2004, with three generations appearing through the year, sadly precipitated a steep decline in line with the national picture. Only a handful of sightings are now reported annually.

(c) Alan Keatley

Marbled White
Melanargia galathea

A scarce resident, which has seriously declined in recent years. It was first recorded as a breeding resident in the 1990s, mainly around the Back Meadow. This population slowly increased but by 2003 only one adult was seen, a slight improvement in 2004 saw four sightings but annual numbers remain in single figures.

(c) Simon Thurgood

Hipparchia semele

Former resident? Recorded before 1960. One on Warren Point on 15th August 2015 was a surprise vagrant for a species which rarely travels, but was followed by second record, also on Warren Point on 4-5th September 2021. 

Pyrona tithonus

A widespread and sometimes abundant species on the Warren, frequently seen around areas of bramble scrub during the summer months.

(c) Alan Keatley

Meadow Brown
Maniola jurtina spp.

Another widespread and abundant butterfly. This species is probably the most frequently encountered on the Warren, individuals can be found almost anywhere on site and in all weathers. Recent years have seen a number of November and a probable January record.

(c) Alan Keatley

Aphantopus hyperantus

Another widespread UK butterfly, the first for the Recording Area was not until 2008. It was seen in Dead Dolphin Wood on 7th July 20/08, where it was noted occasionally until the 13th. A second fresh individual was then seen on 20th July 2008 with a third the next day. Recorded every year since and still on the up.

(c) Simon Thurgood

Small Heath
Coenonympha pamphilus

Recorded in Devon Butterflies as present from 1980 onwards but with no details. However there have been no confirmed records since at least 1982.


Monarch Danaus plexippus   

A rare vagrant with three recent records. Two were seen on the same day in October 1995, one over the Bight and another around the Cuckoo’s Nest. The most recent record was in October 2001.

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