Butterflies: A Very British Obsession

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Natural World, 2010-2011 Episode 8 of 14

Duration: 1 hour

Wildlife documentary featuring the fascinating lives of Britain's beautiful butterflies filmed in exquisite detail and also a celebration of their enduring appeal to the British people. Butterfly-costumed carnival-goers dance at Notting Hill, street artist Nick Walker uses their image to brighten bare city walls, burlesque dancer Vicky Butterfly recreates butterfly dances and at Britain's biggest tattoo convention women reveal their butterfly tattoos.

Britain's butterflies have never been so threatened, three quarters are in decline. A search for butterflies leads to some of the most beautiful parts of Britain. It opens up the intriguing possibility that a passion for butterflies could help us preserve the landscapes that we love.

Music Played

24 items
  • Wildlife Finder

    Wildlife Finder

    Explore the world of butterflies and moths with video from the BBC archive
  • Large blue butterfly

    Large blue butterfly

    The Large blue butterfly is a rare conservation success story. Despite becoming extinct in the UK in 1979, massive conservation efforts have been successful in bringing the Large blue back to several sites across the South of England. This butterfly is one of only a few species that are dependent on ants to rear their caterpillars. This extraordinary symbiotic relationship was only uncovered after the butterfly became a flagship species for conservation attempts in the 1970s.

    Find out more about the Large blue butterfly at BBC Wildlife Finder
  • Butterflies at Notting Hill Carnival

    Butterflies at Notting Hill Carnival

    Notting Hill is the thriving and symbolic setting for Europe’s biggest carnival. In 2010, the award-winning mas band Sunshine International Arts took on the theme of reincarnation. For them, the life-cycle of butterflies was an obvious choice and dancers dressed to showcase this extraordinary natural and spiritual story.

    See more of Sunshine International Arts' work
  • Purple emperor caterpillar

    Purple emperor caterpillar

    Camouflage is adopted by several species as a method to hide from their enemies. This photo shows a Purple emperor caterpillar which has evolved the perfect disguise whilst feeding on Sallow leaves. For these caterpillars their camouflage is vital if they are to stay undetected whilst overwintering. When it is ready to pupate in late spring, it travels to a suitable leaf where it builds a silk pad from which to suspend itself.

    Watch videos of the purple emperor butterfly on BBC Wildlife Finder
  • Child amazed at a butterfly's beauty

    Child amazed at a butterfly's beauty

    For Clive Farrell, the building of a huge visitor attraction dedicated to butterflies was only for one reason; to enthuse the general public – and specifically children – on the majesty and magic of butterflies and to encourage a new generation of British butterfly enthusiasts. His continuing aim is to make people realise the fragility of butterflies and the natural world and how, by preserving butterflies, we can help save our countryside.

    Read the story of Butterfly World
  • A Peacock butterfly hibernating in a log pile

    A Peacock butterfly hibernating in a log pile

    The Peacock butterfly is one of Britain’s most iconic species. With its huge eyespots on its wings, it is unmistakable. But these patterns are not cosmetic – they help to protect it. Whilst hibernating over winter, the butterfly must still be able to protect itself from enemies such as wood mice. When threatened the butterfly will suddenly open its wings displaying its bright eyespots and emit a hissing noise, enough to frighten off the hungriest of mice.

    Find out more about Peacock butterflies at BBC Wildlife Finder
  • Speckled wood chrysalis

    Speckled wood chrysalis

    A Speckled wood pupa hangs delicately from a branch hiding away through the deepest of winters. In its protective shell, the butterfly is shielded from drying out and an internal ‘anti-freeze’ keeps even the harshest of frosts from freezing it. In spring, the final reorganisation of cells and the growth of wings signal that a butterfly is ready to hatch. As it climbs out of the chrysalis, the butterfly must quickly ‘pump up’ and warm its flaccid wings before its first flight.

    Learn to identify Speckled wood butterflies with the UK Butterflies website
  • Vicky Butterfly performs a Victorian butterfly dance

    Vicky Butterfly performs a Victorian butterfly dance

    In the oldest surviving music hall in the world, Vicky Butterfly recreates the butterfly dances beloved by Victorian Britons. Throughout the Victorian period, butterfly dances were highly popular and attracted large audiences. In the famous Folies Bergere, Loie Fuller became one of the most famous people in the world and amongst the first ever to be captured on film whilst performing these dances.

    See more of Vicky Butterfly's work
  • Silver-studded blue butterfly feeding

    Silver-studded blue butterfly feeding

    This film shows the exquisite beauty of butterflies for the first time in High Definition. Extraordinary macro photography reveals the minute scales that make up butterfly wings and time-lapse images show their remarkable life-cycles unfolding.

    See more on the Silver-studded blue at Butterfly Conservation
  • Butterfly tattoos on a woman's leg

    Butterfly tattoos on a woman's leg

    Butterflies are one of the most popular motifs found on tattoos in the UK. For many they are not simply animals but symbolic messengers of emotions and events that have changed lives.

  • Butterflies in art

    Butterflies in art

    Nick Walker is one of the world’s most influential street artists. Butterflies are a recurring theme in his work. For him, the flight of a butterfly inspires beauty and imagination and helps him realise their transient lives are in many ways similar to his artwork.


Imelda Staunton
Simon Bell
Series Producer
Steve Greenwood
Series Editor
Tim Martin


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