Large Tortoiseshell

Extremely rare Large Tortoiseshell butterfly could be experiencing a comeback to the UK though Norfolk and Suffolk

While people across Europe are confined to home, nature has no such restrictions. This spring has seen an unprecedented migration of Large Tortoiseshell butterflies into the eastern counties of the UK. While the odd individual slipping across the channel in high summer is not unusual, Butterfly Conservation volunteers have received more reports this month than in the whole of the previous ten years.

Not to be confused with the Small Tortoiseshell butterfly, a very common household species which frequents gardens across the UK during the summer months, the Large Tortoiseshell is an immigrant species and 11 sightings have been made so far in areas across the breadth of Norfolk and into Suffolk.

Kiri Stuart-Clarke, volunteer for Butterfly Conservation’s Norfolk Branch says: “This is an incredibly exciting discovery for 2020 and we can’t wait to see how many further sightings are recorded over the coming months. We don’t yet know the reasons for the re-emergence of the Large Tortoiseshell into the UK but the more data we have the better.

“We’re asking the public to help us by recording any sightings they make. The weather and wind direction has been favourable for immigration so they could pop up just about anywhere. If you are lucky enough to spot a Large Tortoiseshell either in your own garden or while on your daily exercise you can record your sightings and contribute to our data. Go to to download the iRecord app. And don’t forget to share a picture of your sighting too.

“It’s important to provide a positive identification when submitting a recording as it could be easy to mis-identify the butterfly as a Small Tortoiseshell or Comma. The native Small Tortoiseshell is obviously much smaller, while the Large Tortoiseshell also has distinguishing features including uneven forewing bars, an extra black forewing spot and is a paler orange in colour.

‘We know that it’s highly likely that people might spot these species in their gardens over the coming weeks. Other European countries such as Holland are seeing the best emergence of this species for 40 years.”

Ian Griffin, a butterfly enthusiast who lives in North Norfolk said: “I was on local walk as part of my daily exercise and came across a Large Tortoiseshell butterfly in a churchyard in Melton Constable. Luckily, I had my camera with me and was able to take a picture. I didn’t realise it was such a special butterfly to spot until I looked back at the pictures the following morning and could make a positive identification. What an exciting find!”

Anyone can be a citizen scientist and record the butterflies that they see in their garden, outdoor space or on their daily exercise. All further data that can be captured about the Large Tortoiseshell, it’s whereabouts and population numbers, over the coming weeks is vital towards tracking and ultimately understanding its exciting arrival of this species into the UK.

Large Tortoiseshell


For further pictures or interviews, please contact the Butterfly Conservation Press Office on 01929 406005, or email [email protected]

Butterfly Conservation is the UK charity dedicated to saving butterflies, moths and our environment. Our research provides advice on how to conserve and restore habitats. We run projects to protect more than 100 threatened species and we are involved in conserving hundreds of sites and reserves. @savebutterflies