Dingy Skipper (Erynnis tages)
Peak District local information
When to see: May-June
Where to see: Limestone grassland, old quarries
Caterpillar food plant: Bird’s-foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus)
Peak District status: The dingy skipper (Erynnis tages) is widely distributed across the country, but research carried out for the Millennium Atlas showed a national decline of around 40% since 1982. It is still widely distributed in scattered colonies across the White Peak though is never very numerous. It prefers sunny, sheltered areas of limestone grassland in dales and quarries with short or fairly short turf, bare ground or rocks for basking and the presence of bird’s-foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus), the larval food plant. Dingy skippers usually spend the night in taller vegetation with their wings partly wrapped around a flower head. Much of this habitat has been lost through natural vegetation succession and expansion of scrub or agricultural improvement. As patches of suitable habitat disappear, isolation and fragmentation become more of a threat. Colonies tend anyway to be small and localised, and dingy skippers do not normally disperse over a great distance, which perhaps explains why they are so much less abundant than the common blue, which shares the same larval food plant. Dingy skippers formerly also occurred in the Dark Peak , where they were last recorded in 1929 in the Goyt Valley (Harrison & Sterling 1985).
The dingy skipper is one of the earlier butterflies to appear in the Peak District, usually emerging in early to mid May, depending on the weather. In the exceptionally warm and sunny spring of 2003 it was first seen in mid-April. It remains on the wing until the end of June, occasionally persisting into July. Second broods are a regular feature in the south of the UK but not in this area. A small second brood was recorded for the first time in Derbyshire in 1996, at a site just outside the Peak District, and in August 2003 during an exceptional summer, a small second brood emerged at one site in the White Peak .
With their dark brown and grey coloration, small size and buzzing flight, low over the ground, dingy skippers are rather unobtrusive insects that can easily be overlooked or confused with day-flying moths. It is possible that not all colonies have been recorded. Males and females are nearly identical, but males can be distinguished by the presence of a line of scent scales along the front of the forewing, though this feature is not always easy to see.
Dingy skippers occur in the Derbyshire Dales National Nature Reserve, five Derbyshire Wildlife Trust nature reserves, and Plantlife’s Deep Dale reserve. Many other sites are located in Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and so receive some form of protection. Limestone grassland is a national priority habitat under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan and a considerable amount of effort is invested in conserving and extending the area occupied. This involves removal of invasive hawthorn scrub and optimising grazing regimes to maintain short, species-rich swards that will provide suitable habitat for the butterfly. This work is funded and carried out by several agencies including English Nature, Peak District National Park , Derbyshire Wildlife Trust and the Countryside Stewardship Scheme.
Open, sunny and rocky areas in almost any of the main dales such as Chee Dale, Miller’s Dale, Lathkill Dale, Combs Dale are good sites to search for it – and for a wealth of limestone flowers too.