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The Camberwell Beauty

by Michael Thompson (photo by Bob Polley)

Every year a rare bird, butterfly, reptile or spider turns up in Britain. Some get here by wind-assisted flight, others by cargo ship and others by sea. What ever the means, for those individuals who find them, there is always a great deal of excitement and interest, whether it be at a port, at a greengrocer, on a sea shore line or in a back garden. On 24th August a Camberwell Beauty arrived in a back garden at Swinton, near Malton, having been seen on the previous day only flying around the Arboretum at Castle Howard. The Swinton Camberwell Beauty remained in my friendís garden for 3 days, feeding on ripening plums and the nectar of buddleias.

This very colourful, medium-sized butterfly is a strong flier and is easily picked out and identified. The wings are a dull brown, with an outer edge of blue spots and a creamy-white fringe. Described as an immigrant butterfly, the Camberwell Beauty does not breed here in Britain. Its immigration depends on weather conditions, especially the prevailing winds at the time, along with successful breeding on the continent, such as northern Europe. However, the Camberwell Beauty is a rare visitor to Britain. Every year only a few reports are received by the Butterfly Conservation Trust, but there are bumper years, such as 1995 when as many as 500 were seen, and 2002 with 25 records. In 2005 there was only one record for Yorkshire from Halifax, with one other for Britain from Sussex on the same day.

This year the butterfly fraternity were expecting sightings in Britain, for the Dutch butterfly conservationists reported major immigration of the Camberwell Beauty in the Netherlands. By the beginning of August butterflies were coming in from the east, possibly from Germany and Poland where the species regularly breeds. By the end of August there had been over 80 reports from Britain, especially from East Anglia and as far north as the east coast of Tyne and Wear. More British records are expected as recordings are sent in.

Why the name? The Camberwell Beauty was first identified at Camberwell in south London. It was the first reported sighting in Britain by entomologists, in 1748 when Camberwell was a country parish. The name has stuck, but the butterfly, no doubt, will have other names in Europe. I saw my first Camberwell Beauty in a garden off the Knavesmire, York, in 1976, but none since this one turned up on our door step.

Michael Thompson August 2006 Back to the Annual Report Contents and Home page

© Michael Thompson 2006. Photo © Bob Polley 2006