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Butterfly Conservation- Glasgow & South West Scotland Branch

Mountain Ringlet Surveys in 2011

Distribution Map
(Click for bigger image)

The Mountain Ringlet (Erebia epiphron) is a rare UK butterfly being confined to montane habitat between 350 & 900 m in the central highlands from Ben Lomond in the south to Creag Meagaidh /Glen Roy in the north and from Glasdrum/Glencoe, Argyll in the west to Schiehallion in central Perthshire in the east with two known colonies further east in the Cairngorms National Park: Glen Doll & Glen Feshie. This distribution amounts to just 52 10 km squares in Scotland which makes it much rarer than the iconic birds of the Scottish mountains such as the Ptarmigan & the Golden Eagle.

Given the presence of large areas of land from 350-900 m outside the known range, there must be a factor other than altitude which explains this limited distribution of Mountain Ringlet. This aspect of Mountain Ringlet ecology has been investigated as part of a research project into montane invertebrates being funded by Scottish Natural Heritage, the John Muir Trust, the National Trust for Scotland & Butterfly Conservation during 2008 & 2009.

Previous research suggests that it is a combination of damp Mat-grass Nardus stricta grassland and abundant nectaring plants which provides good habitat for Mountain Ringlet. Analysis of data on vegetation characteristics recorded from 153 1 km squares within the known range of Mountain Ringlet and from 20 1 km squares outside the range in the Cairngorms confirmed the findings of this earlier research and showed that the habitat of Mountain Ringlet is herb-rich Nardus grassland.

Findings of 2008/2009 Survey
New Squares in 2008/2009
(Click for bigger image)

During surveys in 2008 and 2009, a total of 2274 Mountain Ringlet were found. Seventy-three new 1 km squares were found which were mostly adjacent to historical squares with Mountain Ringlet. This shows that Mountain Ringlet is under-recorded in Scotland,

There were quite a few historical 1 km squares which were not surveyed in 2008 and 2009 and it is hoped that volunteers may survey these squares in 2011. The areas with these unsurveyed 1 km squares are shown below and if you click on the links, you will see a map showing these 1 km squares. These maps can be printed out as a Word document by clicking on the relevant link.

Ideally, these unsurveyed 1 km squares will be searched for Mountain Ringlet and habitat survey forms completed too. Click here to download the Mountain Ringlet Survey form as a Word document which you can print out to take out into the field.

1 km Squares to survey in 2011

Peak flight period is late June to mid-July when surveys should be done.

Creag Meagaidh

Glen Roy



Around Stob Ghabhar, Bridge of Orchy.

Around Tyndrum

Stuchd an Lochain, Glen Lyon.

Invervar, Glen Lyon

Around Ben Lui near Tyndrum.

Around Meall na Samhna, Glen Dochart.


The Mountain Ringlet is a small dark brown butterfly with orange bands containing black spots on both upper and underwing surfaces. Distinctive features of this small butterfly are the white legs and antennae which contrast strongly with the dark body.

The Mountain Ringlet can be confused with the closely related Scotch Argus (Erebia aethiops) which is a somewhat larger dark butterfly which also has orange bands on the upperwings containing black eyespots and which is also found in the Scottish Highlands. A distinctive feature of the caledonia sub-species of the Scotch Argus which is the sub-species which occurs in Scotland is the narrowing of the orange band on the upper forewing between the two anterior eyespots and the single posterior eyespot. Also, the Scotch Argus flies somewhat later in the summer commencing about the 20 July but this overlaps with the latter part of the flight period of the Mountain Ringlet which can lead to mis-identification of the much rarer Mountain Ringlet.

Mountain Ringlet Upperwing
Scotch Argus Upperwing
Credit: Andrew Masterman
Credit: Andrew Masterman
Mountain Ringlet Underwing
Scotch Argus Underwing
Credit: Andrew Masterman
Credit: Jim Asher

Methodology for Recording Mountain Ringlet

Either, simply count all Mountain Ringlet seen within a 1 km square and provide six figure grid references to represent where you saw them and note this on the recording form or preferably use a GPS device and record each Mountain Ringlet seen with a waymark - this enables both a precise position and precise altitude to be determined. Some standard settings are required: set position to be recorded as British National Grid and altitude in metres. Once your track and waymarks are downloaded to your computer, please save as a text (TAB delimited) file or Excel worksheet without editing, and . But the Mountain Ringlet Survey Forms should be completed too and sent to this email address or posted to the address on the form.

Methodology for Vegetation Surveys to produce a score for Mountain Ringlet Habitat

The aim of this survey work is to produce a score out of a maximum of 20 for each 1 km square on south facing aspects of mountains which measures the quality of the land for Mountain Ringlet. A GPS device would be very helpful for this work as you need to know where you are in relation to specific 1 km squares. To adequately survey a 1 km square, a walk 500 to 750 m long within a square should be done with the aim of surveying several squares on the south facing slope of a mountain by doing a circuit. A pair of binoculars would be helpful in scanning vegetation from a distance.

1) Score to determine extent of land with suitable altitude range and aspect within a 1 km square:

NB: ha = hectare and there are 100 hectares in a 1 km square.

  • less than 10 ha S-facing slopes from 400-800 m = 0
  • 10-30 ha S-facing slopes from 400-800 m = 1
  • more than 30 ha S-facing slopes from 400-800 m = 2

2) Score to determine that Mat-grass grassland is present in the 400-800 m altitude range within a 1 km square (i.e in the area estimated in 1) above):

  • less than 10 ha Mat-grass grassland with Mollinia/Heather/Blaeberry/Rock/Other dominant = 0 (most squares within the Grampians would probably have this score as Heather and Blueberry are dominant here).
  • 10-30 ha with Mat-grass grassland = 1
  • more than 30 ha with Mat-grass grassland = 2

3) Score to note presence/absence of sheep grazing: sheep grazing is known to favour a sward dominant in Mat-grass.

  • no sheep grazing = 0
  • sheep grazing = 1

4) Scores to record the abundance of the nectaring plants: Tormentil; Heath Bedstraw; Wild Thyme; Alpine Lady’s Mantle; & Meadow Buttercup. A minimum of five gullies (with or without streams) should be investigated and the grassland outside gullies also assessed. A higher density of flowering plants is usually found within gullies, especially gullies with streams but on south-facing slopes outside gullies, Wild Thyme, Heath Bedstraw and Alpine Ladys Mantle may form carpets of flowers above about 600 m and Tormentil and Meadow Buttercup may be scattered amongst Mat-grass grassland.

Score the abundance of each of the five nectaring plants by looking in dry gullies and gullies with streams and by looking at the vegetation outside gullies:

0 = absent      1 = present within gullies      2 = abundant within gullies      3 abundant within gullies and large areas outside gullies

The following pro-forma should be used to record the survey data Mountain Ringlet Survey Form., one for each 1 km square surveyed. A list of mountains and 1 km squares to survey will be posted here in due course.

The following are photographs of Mat-grass and four of the five nectaring plants (we all know what Meadow Buttercup looks like!) and this document enables you to print them out to take out into the field.

Mat-grass plant
Mat-grass grassland
Credit: Andrew Masterman
Credit: Andrew Masterman
Credit: Andrew Masterman
Wild Thyme
Heath Bedstraw
Alpine Lady's Mantle
Credit: Andrew Masterman
Credit: Andrew Masterman
Credit: Andrew Masterman

Mountain Safety

A moderate level of fitness is required for this survey which involves ascending and descending mountain slopes over a number of hours if several 1km squares are to be surveyed. Also, the standard mountain safety advice applies.

  • TAKE map, compass/GPS, mobile phone and/or whistle, sun hat, watch & survival bag.
  • DO let someone know your expected route and expected time back and what to do if late (ie a 'buddy' system).
  • DO wear stout footwear, preferably walking boots
  • DO take warm clothing and waterproofs as conditions are likely to be colder and windier up a mountain even on warm sunny days and because conditions can change
  • DO take food and drink
  • DON'T attempt to survey along waterfalls, scree slopes or above crags or steep slopes
  • DON'T put yourself or anyone else at risk during this survey

If you prefer to send in more limited data by email, then please with basic information including 6 figure OS map reference, date and counts of Mountain Ringlet.

It would also be appreciated if a volunteer timesheet could be completed if you participate in this survey. If you let Butterfly Conservation know about the hours you have worked, we can claim your time as match funding against our grants.

Survey Checklist

If you would like to participate in this Mountain Ringlet Survey, there are a few documents you need to print out which are listed below:

Written by Andrew Masterman

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