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What is a Grayling?

The Grayling is a butterfly. Cryptic colouring provides the grayling with excellent camouflage, making it difficult to see when at rest on bare ground, tree trunks or rocks. The wings are kept closed when not in flight and the forewings are usually tucked behind the hindwings, concealing the eyespots and making the butterfly appear smaller. However, in flight this is a distinctive, large butterfly with a strong looping and gliding flight.

Why is the Grayling important to the Surrey Hills?

The grayling is protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981), Section 41 & 42 of the NERC Act (2006) and is a UK Priority Species for conservation. It has declined by 62% since the 1970s.

What habitat does a Grayling like?


Lowland heathland is a habitat of outstanding importance for its range of nationally and internationally rare or endangered species. These ancient, open landscapes are generally found on poor, acid, sandy soils less than 300 metres above sea level. They are characterised by dwarf shrubs of the heather family.   

Lowland heathland is the prime inland habitat for the grayling butterfly, where particular requirements include sparse vegetation, sheltered sunny spots and plenty of bare ground for basking. The main foodplants are fine-leaved grasses such as sheep’s fescue, red fescue, bristle bent and early hair-grass.

What can be done to benefit the Grayling?

Good heathland management for this species will create/result in a mosaic of heathland habitats with heathers of different ages including young regenerating heather and plenty of bare ground. This will benefit a wide range of other species including ants, bees and wasps, heathland birds such as the nightjar and Dartford warbler and reptiles such as the adder, common lizard and slow worm.

Opportunities to create/improve/extend suitable habitat for this species include:
  • Grazing by hardy livestock breeds to control scrub and dominant grasses and create a varied sward structure
  • Periodic and/or patchy disturbance to increase bare ground, either by grazing or creating scrapes
  • Managing heather by controlled rotational burning, cutting or turf stripping
  • Controlling bracken either by regular cutting or rolling or by treatment with an approved herbicide
  • Clearing scrub and controlling its regrowth
  • Selective thinning of trees including conifer plantations
  • Managing fire risk


Creating and managing areas for the Grayling will help deliver the following benefits to communities:
  • Clean water
  • Clean air
  • Protection from and mitigation of environmental hazards
  • Mitigation of and adaptation to climate change
  • Thriving plants and wildlife
  • Beauty, heritage and engagement

These illustrations are by an artist taking part in a programme delivered by Watts Gallery Trust and funded by the Michael Varah Memorial Fund. This series of 30 Surrey Hills Indicator Species were commissioned by Surrey Hills Society and funded by Surrey Hills Trust Fund as part of the Making Space for Nature Exhibition.